Israel. Bring It.

Penina Romanek says volunteering in Beit Shemesh is teaching her the importance of the State of Israel. (Maayan Jaffe)

Penina Romanek says volunteering in Beit Shemesh is teaching her the importance of the State of Israel. (Maayan Jaffe)

There are upward of 300 young men and women from the Greater Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor who are spending between five and 12 months this year in the State of Israel — volunteering, learning and living.

These people — young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 — are part of an international program called Masa Israel. Spearheaded in 2004 to increase the number of young Jews who come on long-term programs to Israel, Masa gives travelers the opportunity to touch and feel what life is like in Israel.

Take, for example, Devin Sutton, a 28-year-old graduate of University of Maryland, College Park. Sutton said she discovered Masa and its English Teaching Fellowship by chance. She was working as a kindergarten teacher in a Carroll County public school when she became frustrated by the administrative work. She switched to a job in customer service, only to become disillusioned by her choice; Sutton still wanted to teach. She also wanted to revisit Israel. She had only been to Israel once, on a Birthright trip.

“I had gone on Birthright through Oranim. I went back to the website and stumbled upon this program,” Sutton said. “I thought it would be one of the best ways to get back to teaching.”

With help from Masa grants — “I would not have been able to do it without help” — Sutton made the move. She said the year (she is living in Ramle and teaching underprivileged children in Lod) has achieved its goal.

“In Baltimore, I am not that connected. I did not go to Hebrew school, my family does not belong to a synagogue. Here, I have been able to find my Jewish identity and to teach. That is why I did this, I wanted a change, an opportunity to do something new and different … and to have the most impact,” said Sutton.

According to Mary Haar, director of Israel and Overseas for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, 832 young adults have traveled from Baltimore on a Masa program since the city became involved in 2008. In 2013, approximately 160 people took part. The Associated, whose 2013 grant to Masa was $303,000, hopes to increase that number in 2014 by 60 people.

Explained Haar: “One component of the grant is to create and implement a strategic, multimedia marketing campaign to increase awareness of Masa.”

The campaign is scheduled to launch in January 2014.

In Washington, that awareness has already been building for the past several months. Bold ads for Masa can be seen on the Metro and in other key venues throughout the area. This campaign — and a full-time Masa Israel recruitment professional — is made possible by a generous, anonymous donor.

According to Avital Ingber, chief development officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, this donor “wanted to help more local community members learn about Masa Israel. The donor’s child had a difficult time finding information to research a potential Masa Israel experience, and [the donor] wanted to help make this process easier for others.”

Jenn Rheuban is part of the Federation’s Young Leadership team.

According to Ingber, approximately 150 young adults from the Greater Washington area participated in Masa programs in 2013. The community is expecting an increase with the launch of masaisrael.org/dc, a new portal that features local Masa alumni and statistics about the positive impact of Masa Israel. Since its recent launch, site traffic is nearly doubling monthly.

In addition to young people from the area who are traveling to Israel through Masa, many young adults from across the country are volunteering in the communities’ partner cities, Ashkelon (Baltimore) and Beit Shemesh (Washington).

Penina Romanek, from Chicago, landed in Israel in October 2013 and is volunteering in Beit Shemesh through the Ethiopian National Project (ENP). She helps mentor the youth and assists in a Beit Shemesh school. She said while she feels good about giving back to the community, she feels she is gaining from the experience, as well.

“I have learned so much from the kids,” said Romanek. “They are teaching me the importance of the State of Israel. I can’t wait to go home and tell people what I see here.”

Similarly, Abby Mandel, of South Carolina, is working with ENP in the afternoons; she studies Hebrew in the mornings. She said she had no idea about the Ethiopian community before coming to Israel. She finds her work “inspiring.”

Said Mandel: “This feels very real.”

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

Analysis: A Closer Look At The P5+1-Iranian Agreement

There wasn’t a news site by last Sunday morning void of a story about the historic deal — or “mistake,” as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was calling it — which was signed between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France plus Germany) late last Saturday night.

But, according to analysts, many of the headlines that cluttered the Internet were inaccurate and deceptive. There was no “freeze,” “halt” or “stopping” of Iranian nuclear proliferation as many newspapers and websites described. Rather, said Dr. Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute, on a Jewish Federations of North America leadership briefing Monday afternoon, “it impedes or limits” nuclear progress.

What does Iran give up? What does it get to keep?

Iran’s key commitment is to limit its enrichment of uranium — the element needed to make a nuclear bomb — to 5 percent, according to a summary of the agreement released by the White House. Iran will dilute its stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium down to 5 percent, freeze many of its centrifuges that produce uranium and disable some technical features of some centrifuges. Iran also will stop construction and fuel production for its unfinished plutonium reactor and not expand its enrichment capabilities.

Under the agreement, Iran may continue to enrich uranium and does not need to dismantle any centrifuges or its plutonium reactor — conditions Netanyahu has said are necessary.

What is the significance of different levels of uranium enrichment?

Only a rare and specific type of uranium, uranium 235, can be used for a nuclear weapon. Enrichment, which is conducted using centrifuges, is the process of separating that material from the rest of the uranium supply. Five percent enrichment, for example, means that 5 percent of the uranium stockpile in question is uranium 235.

Five-percent-enriched uranium can be used for civilian purposes such as nuclear power; to be used for a nuclear weapon, uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent. Iran has long claimed that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.

The agreement aims to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment at 5 percent. However, getting uranium from 0 to 5 percent is the hardest part of enrichment; jumping from 5 to 90 percent is easier. So by allowing Iran to enrich to 5 percent, the agreement allows Iran to continue clearing the biggest enrichment-related hurdle to bomb-making capacity.

Iran also possesses “next-generation” centrifuges that allow it to jump from 5 to 90 percent in a matter of weeks — what Israelis call a “breakout capacity.” The agreement freezes those centrifuges but doesn’t require Iran to fully dismantle them.

In exchange, most of the sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors will stay in place, including $100 billion in holdings that Iran cannot access, but there will be $7 billion in relief, including the release of funds from some Iranian oil sales and the suspension of sanctions on Iran’s auto, precious metals and petro-chemical industries.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is calling the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran a “historic mistake.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is calling the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran a “historic mistake.”
(Haim Zach/ GPO/FLASH90)

And this is why Israel is calling the deal a “historic mistake,” as Netanyahu put it during his Sunday cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu said, “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”

“If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid,” said Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home party and a government minister, “it will be because of the deal that was signed [in Geneva].”

Several American congressmen and senators — as well as analysts — are seconding that notion.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement that she feels the agreement reached with Iran “leaves unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities. … The agreement … simply does not go far enough to ensure our national security interests and those of our allies, like the democratic Jewish State of Israel.”

Opponents of the deal were spewing off terms like “worried” and “suspicious” in blogs and on social media, as well as in official statements disseminated to supporters and the media. Concern came from those in official capacities, as well as Jewish citizens in the area.

“I have serious concerns,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) in a statement.

“I am deeply concerned,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

“I have little trust in the Iranian regime,” noted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee. “We will need to scrutinize Iranian behavior to ensure they do not cheat.”

Dr. Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he is not confident. He said, “I am suspicious, suspicious, suspicious.”

In Baltimore, Israel Orange of Israel Orange Studios, told the JT, “I am worried,” and asked, “How can this be good?”

Shimmy Rosenblum from Silver Spring, now living in Israel, said, “It will work well for Iran bombing its enemies. [President] Obama has shown a new low in world diplomacy.”

Added the Maryland/Israel Development Center’s Peter Telem, “Substitute the words ‘Nazi Germany’ for Iran, then think again about how this will turn out.”

Friedman ‘Starts Up’ With MIDC

MIDC’s hiring of Ilan Friedman comes at a time of new growth  for the organization. (Provided)

MIDC’s hiring of Ilan Friedman comes at a time of new growth for the organization. (Provided)

The Maryland/Israel Development Center has made a new hire. But you won’t see him too often at the MIDC office in the Department of Business and Economic Development in Baltimore City. That’s because his office is in Netanya, Israel.

Ilan Friedman will now serve as the connector between Maryland and Israeli companies and the MIDC. His role replaces a years-long relationship between MIDC and Trendlines, which, according to executive director Barry Bogage, had become less effective because of Trendlines’ focus on seed-stage startups that were not ready to enter or collaborate with the American market. Friedman will focus on more mature high-tech companies with the capability to expand into the U.S. arena.

Friedman comes to the MIDC after more than a decade of working with a similar organization out of Atlanta and then with assisting Israeli companies through his firm, Ncompas International Market Development, in their marketing and sales initiatives to better prepare them for international growth. Born in New York but raised in Israel since the age of 2, Friedman has spent time in both countries and has a deep understanding of the two economies. Now that he signed an agreement with MIDC, which became official at the first of the month, he will focus solely on Maryland-Israel economic relations.

“The whole idea is to promote MIDC and Maryland, and I can’t be working with competing groups or states,” Friedman said.

Friedman’s hire comes at a time of new growth for MIDC. According to Bogage, Gov. Martin O’Malley increased the state allocation to MIDC for 2014 by 100 percent, doubling funds available for staff, marketing and projects that can bring jobs to both economies. In addition to hiring Friedman, Bogage added Jennifer Rubin Raskas in Montgomery County to better expand opportunities in that area of the state.

In the last two years, MIDC has scored some big wins, including convincing defense giant ELTA to open its American office in Howard County. Likewise, several Israeli companies are applying to enter (or have already entered) into area incubators, the first step in a Maryland presence. Those companies include Hybrid Security, Roboteam and Zuznow, among a handful of others.

“We already have a lot of new activity, and we expect to keep growing exceptionally,” said Bogage. “After years of doing this by myself, it is fantastic to have great staff.”

Friedman said he believes that Maryland and Israel have the potential for even more and improved synergy. While he is not setting a metric in terms of number of companies he would like to see collaborate, he said he is focused on getting Israeli companies investors, customers and partners in the state. He does not think that Maryland companies could necessarily benefit from having storefronts in Israel, but rather from learning about Israeli technologies and creating partnerships that would enable local companies to use the innovation in Israel to enhance their products and services.

The two primary areas of potential synergy are in the cyber security and the life-science arenas. He said both Maryland and Israel are leaders in these fields, and he expects they could better assist one another.

Concurrently, MIDC has a robust membership of close to 300 companies and/or individuals. Friedman will work with the rest of the MIDC team to figure out how the organization can better tap into its professional network to assist Israeli companies and to look at what more MIDC can offer the professionals in terms of access to Israeli innovations — first and for profit.

One other message that Friedman hopes to convey: “Israel is not in the same position as it was in the past. It is not a needy market. It used to need [economic] support, and it received that support. … Israel today has an extremely powerful economy and is a very influential country.”

He said that while there is much Americans can still do for Israel and things that Maryland can offer the Jewish state, he also hopes that he can use his role to improve the local market. He noted that Israel being the startup nation with the highest concentration of innovation in the world did not happen by accident but was the result of a process put in place by the Israeli government and the private sector.

“We can and should learn from the U.S.,” said Friedman. “But there is a lot the U.S. can learn from Israel.”

 See related article, “Showcase Of Innovation”>>

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

 

Iran, Major Powers Achieve Interim Deal On Nuclear Program

Iran and the major powers achieved an interim deal to freeze some nuclear activity in exchange for some sanctions relief.

“We have reached an agreement,” Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister leading talks in Geneva, said on his Twitter feed early Sunday morning.

According to a White House statement sent to reporters later in the evening, Iran will stop enriching uranium at 20 percent, but will keep enriching at 5 percent or lower.

Iran will neutralize its existing stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and will not install or build any new centrifuges, except to replace damaged machines.

Experts say 5 percent enriched uranium is well below weaponization, but Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that Iran’s program is advanced enough that even enriching at low levels brings it closer to the weapons breakout point.

Sanctions relief would amount to about $7 billion out of the $100-120 billion that annually impacts Iran’s economy. the White House statement said.

Although some sanctions relief would affect Iran’s energy sector, the statement said the principal sanctions targeting Iran’s banking and energy sectors would remain in place.

The negotiators now have six months to work out a final status deal.

“The agreement reached today between the world powers and Iran is a positive step forward in the diplomatic effort to roll back Iran’s nuclear program,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a senior Member of the Intelligence Committee, in a statement.

He noted, however, that he has “little trust in the Iranian regime, and we will need to scrutinize Iranian behavior to ensure they do not cheat. … At the same time, if Iran’s new President can make good on his stated intention, the next six months could mark a turning point in our relations with Iran of historic significance.”

Similarly, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he has “serious concerns” that this agreement does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and its allies.

“Instead of rolling back Iran’s program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability. Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling – relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years,” Royce said in a statement. “This sanctions relief is more lifeline than ‘modest.’ Secretary Kerry should soon come before the Foreign Affairs Committee to address the many concerns with this agreement.”

However, President Obama, in a statement delivered on TV late Saturday night in the United States, said that he would dedicate the time to solving an issue “that has threatened our security and the security of our allies for decades.”

He appealed to Congress not to pass intensified sanctions, saying that to do so would endanger any deal and unravel the alliance that has kept pressure on Iran through sanctions until now.

Obama also said that the “resolve of the United States will remain firm” and so would “the commitment to our allies” which had reason to be skeptical of Iran, naming Israel among them.

JCPA President and CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow released the following statement: “Though Iran has done little to deserve our trust, diplomacy is preferable to military action. At the same time, we support President Obama when he says that no option should be taken off the table. Thus, we believe the interim agreement reached in Geneva today has the potential to serve as a valuable stepping stone to a final agreement that can serve the long term security interests of the United States, Israel, the Middle East and the entire international community. Such a final agreement, which should be negotiated in a tight time frame, must not leave Iran in a position to continue its drive for nuclear weapons capability, or to be able to restart it with ease anytime in the future. The menace of a nuclear armed Iran needs to be eliminated once and for all.”

Said Ori Nir on behalf of Americans for Peace Now: “We congratulate the Obama Administration and its international partners for this important achievement and welcome this demonstration of a new Iranian readiness to seriously negotiate the future of its nuclear program. We believe that anyone who cares about U.S. national security, the security of Israel and stability in the Middle East should likewise welcome this agreement.”

 

 

Showcase Of Innovation

A crowd of 200 people poured into Howard County Community College on Tuesday, Nov. 19, for the Maryland/Israel Development Center’s Showcase of Innovation, a program celebrating Israeli companies with offices in Maryland and local companies doing business in and with the Jewish state.

The cocktail hour and round-robin dialogues made for an interesting evening, as high-level executives and professionals networked and discussed high-tech, bio-tech and opportunities for growth.

But the event, which ran from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m., was highlighted by a keynote address from Thomas Feldhausen, director of international operations for Lockheed Martin International.

“The reality is that today you have to be global. We are connected as one global society,” said Feldhausen. “We realized that if we want to continue to grow internationally, if we want partnership and commitment from foreign governments and businesses around the world, we cannot do it from Maryland. We have to work and live with them day in and day out.”

Feldhausen then spoke about the short list of countries that Lockheed Martin, a company that employs 116,000 people worldwide, considered for such a partnership. Israel was at the top of that list. Earlier this month, the defense giant announced plans to open a major subsidiary in Israel that will employ hundreds of people, while simultaneously looking to purchase Israeli companies and integrate itself into the Israeli economy. Feldhausen said he is confident his company is making a good decision.

According to Feldhausen, Israel and Lockheed Martin have a relationship that dates back more than 40 years, to when Lockheed Martin introduced the general dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon to Israel.

“That relationship has continued through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, with a variety of weapons defense systems, information technology and significant partnerships with Israeli industry,” said Feldhausen, noting than in an average year the company does $3.4 billion worth of business with Israel. He said 25 percent of the content of the F-16 is manufactured in Israel, including 100 percent of the wings.

Feldhausen said Lockheed Martin also does business in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Japan. He said staffing in Israel will grow as business grows, but the company expects at some point to employ hundreds of people on the ground in the Jewish state.


Created with flickr slideshow.

“We recognize Israel has been a great partner, and we want to be a great partner with Israel; I think this is key to our growth,” said Feldhausen. “We have had a four-decades-long relationship with Israel. We see another four decades.”

Other companies that were present at the event included 20/20 GeneSystems, Inc., which develops and commercializes technologies and products to detect early-stage cancer and for personalize cancer therapies, Advanced Defense Technologies, a contract manufacturer of wire harnesses and mechanical assemblies, and Altenera Technology Inc., an early-stage company with the mission to rethink wind- energy-generation technology, among others.

The Maryland/Israel Development Center, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and supported by the Maryland and Montgomery County departments of Business and Economic Development, promotes trade and investment between Maryland and Israel to help create jobs in both economies. To learn more about MIDC, visit marylandisrael.org.

Israel Must Be Fun: Record High Tourism In Israel

A new record for tourism in Israel was set this month as 339,000 tourists entered into the country during October 2013, a 12 percent increase from last year’s numbers; 551,000 people visited Israel during September and October, an increase of 3 percent.

“Tourists continue to vote with their feet,” said Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau. “Unlike many other tourism destinations, tourists come to Israel and find sun for most of the year. In addition, Israel has a broad cultural and historic variety to offer. The Tourism Ministry will continue to market Israel overseas with the goal of realizing its potential.”

Since the beginning of 2013 through October, more than 3 million visitors arrived in Israel, 1 percent fewer than the same period in 2012, 6 percent more than 2011 and 3 percent more than 2010. These numbers include visitors who have come to visit Israel for only one day. Of these entries, 2.5 million were tourists, similar to the same period in 2012, 5 percent more than 2011 and 2010.

“After a period of tension in the region, tourism is back on the rise,” said Tourism Ministry Director-General Amir Halevi. “The quiet security situation and the marketing efforts are proving themselves. Israel is an amazing tourist product with the potential to be a tourism powerhouse.”

IDF Soldier Killed In Terrorist Attack At Afula Bus Station

Israel Defense Forces soldier Eden Attias, 19, from Nazareth Illit, was stabbed to death by a Palestinian teenager Wednesday in the northern Israeli city of Afula, Israel Hayom reported.

The terrorist attack took place around 8:30 a.m. aboard the 823 Egged bus from Nazareth Illit to Tel Aviv. Sixteen-year-old Hussein Jawadra from Jenin, who authorities say was residing in Israel illegally, attacked Attias when the bus came to a stop, stabbing him multiple times.

Jawadra then attempted to flee the scene but was quickly apprehended by another soldier and border policeman who were also on the bus. Attias, who joined the IDF in October and was still undergoing basic training, sustained several wounds to his neck and chest. Magen David Adom paramedics rushed him to Haemek Medical Center in Afula where he underwent emergency surgery, and later died of his wounds.

“The soldier was admitted to the hospital in critical condition, suffering from massive blood loss. We administered a series of treatments in an attempt to stabilize his condition, but the injury to his heart was too severe and despite our best possible efforts there was nothing we could do,” Haemek Medical Center Deputy Director Dr. Tuvia Tiyosuno told the Israeli Channel 2 TV network.

 

Analysis: The Global Jewish Shuk

PM Netanyahu at the Opening Plenary greeting attendees (Photo vy AG for JFNA)

PM Netanyahu at the Opening Plenary greeting attendees (Photo vy AG for JFNA)

It was a shuk — a marketplace — of ideas. Attendees heard new and familiar voices. There was an abundance of give and take.

At the 2013 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which ran from Nov. 10 to Nov. 12 in Jerusalem, participants had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the most important issues facing the Jewish state and the Jewish people. They learned, they were challenged, and judging from the buzz in the hallways and the smiles on the shuttles, North America’s top Jewish communal leaders and professionals were refreshed and renewed.

The messages: Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh , all Jews are responsible for one another. This is a challenging time, but a time of great global Jewish opportunity.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the challenges that face us,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA president and chief executive officer. “But the biggest challenge is something that I believe we take for granted until it is too late, and that is the idea that we are best when we stand together – as a single community, as one nation.”
A clear call to action: Unite.

A difficult appeal, judging by the dialogue and debate at the GA, which was branded “The Global Jewish Shuk: A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate.”

Unlike a traditional general assembly, with dozens of sessions focused on solicitation techniques, storytelling and community study data mining (although a handful of these sessions did exist), the 2013 GA on the one hand, focused on Diaspora-Israel relations, on the challenges of a maturing Jewish state and on the need to celebrate Israel’s successes . On the other, there was much talk about Iran, the peace process and Israeli security.

111513_netanyahu

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says Israel’s security is his first priority. (Photo vy AG for JFNA)

Speakers ranged in stature from the prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset members with and without portfolios (Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, MK Nachman Shai, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, MK Aliza Lavie and others) to leading Israeli CEOs, journalists and activists. The more than 3,000 participants unpacked what it means to be a Jew living in Israel versus a Jew living in the Diaspora, and they deliberated about ways in which the two contingencies can live with – and learn and grow from — each other. Talks tackled issues such as civil marriage in the Jewish state, making a place for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel and the need for increased Israeli philanthropy.

Some speakers urged Diaspora Jews to lobby and help move the Israeli agenda forward. Others called on American Jews to support the state but to leave the politics and the policies to those who live on the land.

“I am disturbed by Jews who live abroad and don’t have a connection to Israel,” said Ziv Shilon, a 25-year-old captain in the Israel Defense Forces. “Think right. Think left. But for Heaven’s sake, think! … Even if you don’t live here physically, live here in your mind and your soul.”

“With a 71 percent intermarriage rate among the non-Orthodox, the Jewish community in North America has a lot of work to do, and they should do it before they decide what we should do here. There has always been a policy that Jews outside of Israel do not mix into Israeli politics—right or left, more or less religious,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Elefant, chief rabbi of Dimona.

All speakers called on Israeli and Diaspora Jews to talk more, and more often. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro spoke about his focus on people-to-people bonds as the “undergird for bilateral relations” and said he hopes to build new and better opportunities for exchanges.

“Our work here in Israel is not over, but it is changing,” said the JFNA’s chair of the board of trustees, Michael Siegal.

 

Defining Identity

The Pew Research Center survey on U.S. Jews was the elephant– or maybe the large, purple gorilla – in the room, in that North American Jewish leaders are focused today on the study’s indication that Jewish non-Orthodox young people are not affiliating, are intermarrying and think the Holocaust and Jewish humor better defines who they are than synagogue life or religious rituals.

But what was striking during the conference was how quickly it became apparent that the struggles for self-definition, the push for a more pluralistic and individualistic Jewish identity, even within the confines of the open U.S. society, were not that dissimilar from the struggles of many Jews in Israel. And that the Israeli way of relating to Judaism may be similar to the growing cultural (as opposed to religious) affiliation of many young secular North American Jews.

Calls by leaders such as MK Shelly Yacimovich, chairwoman of the Labor Party, for a civil agenda, for support for freedom of religion and worship for all sects of Judaism, for a government that supports civil marriage and gay rights (including gay marriage) were met with thunderous applause. (In 2012, the non-Orthodox Jewish community was among the most vocal contingencies in the State of Maryland lobbying for Question 6, which was also called the Maryland same-sex marriage referendum.)

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Participants enjoy Israeli food before the opening plenary (Photo by AG for JFNA)

Statements by top leaders such as Rabbi Uri Regev, president and CEO of Hiddush, that “the more committed halachic Jews need to understand that pushing religion down the throats of Israelis endears Judaism to no one” nearly echoed the sentiments of young American Jews who sat on a panel about engagement.

“Young adults want Judaism like their music. They want access to everyone, and they want to make their own playlist,” said Rachel Hodes, planning associate in the Commission on the Jewish People at UJA-Federation of New York.

“The Pew study confirms there is not one Jewish identity, there are Jewish identities. Regardless of all these different names that I have for myself [Sephardi, white Jew, Israeli, American], one thing that unites all of them is the fact that I am Jewish. … You can define in different ways and still be Jewish,” said Oren Okhovat, an intern at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

In a talk titled “It’s Different Here: Is Jewish Identity in Israel Distinct from Diaspora Jewish Identity?” secular Israeli Jews expressed that they see the Bible as their inspiration but create a Judaism for themselves that resonates with them in 2013.

“I take inspiration from these stories [in the Bible], said Bella Alexandrov, director of Tor Hamidbar. “I don’t ask myself if it happened or if it didn’t happen. I take it as it is, and when I want to do something with it, I create from it a ritual to which I have a connection. It is not a source of authority, but of inspiration.”

“Judaism means history and heritage and family and a Jewish calendar and school system,” said MK Nitzan Horowitz in a separate session. “I see myself not less Jewish [than the rabbis] … even though I am secular. I feel Jewish, and I am 100 percent Jewish.”

The story of Jewish life in Israel, as speakers stood up and expressed at the end of the identity session, is best grasped through its people. And in Israel, while the news reports show a society of black and white, as one participant indicated, “There isn’t one kind of Judaism, one option; everyone can find [his or her] own place.”

Stop The Bomb

This was a second underlying theme of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. From Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech on the opening night until MK Shelly Yacimovich’s talk at the final plenary, the theme of no deal is better than a bad deal when it comes to Iran could clearly be heard from right, left and center politicians and security officials.

The PM told attendees that an Iran without a nuclear weapon was good not only for Israel, but also for the world. But, he said, “For us, it is a matter of our existence.”

Netanyahu lashed out at the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, plus Germany) who at the time of this writing was negotiating with Iran in Geneva. He said agreeing to lighten sanctions on Iran because it comes to the table pleading is making a bad deal. He said Iran is ready to negotiate because the sanctions are having impact and that if the P5+1 placed demands on Iran to cease and desist the building of capabilities to produce atomic bombs, and Iran is on its knees, why now would we want to come to a deal without Iran dismantling anything?

Elyezer Shkedy, a retired Israeli Air Force major and president of El Al, said “I think we should do everything in order to prevent them [Iran] from getting nuclear capability. I think we should, at least in the beginning, work with the U.S. But in the end, the prime minister of Israel is the leader of the State of Israel and the Jewish nation around the world, and he will have to be able to look into the mirror and know he is doing the right thing.”

Minister of Finance Yair Lapid also spoke in terms of a potential military attack. He said some people draw parallels between the Iranian threat and the Holocaust. He said he refused to believe it was inevitable that Iran would have nuclear capabilities and made clear, “No one will scare us anymore. We have the capabilities to protect ourselves.”

While he noted that “diplomacy is always better than war,” he said that when in discourse with people who “lie for a living” one has to be extra careful.

“My role is to bring alternative ideas to the public, to speak out and challenge the government,” said Yacimovich in reference to her role as the head of the opposition party. “But sometimes we must put aside our disagreements. There is no disagreement that Iran must be stopped from getting the bomb.”

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

Israeli Rescue Teams Take Off for Philippines

Israel rescue

Members of the F.I.R.S.T rescue team in Ben Gurion Airport before takeoff.

In response to Typhoon Haiyan, which plowed through Asia over the weekend, leaving in its wake massive destruction and scores of wounded and dead, two Israeli rescue groups reached the Philippines Monday. The preliminary teams have been tasked with assessing the situation on the ground and deciding what the necessities are in preparation for the coming of much larger rescue teams.

The first team, commissioned by Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, is composed of members of the IDF’s search and rescue unit, the medical corps and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The second team is headed by F.I.R.S.T (Fast Israeli Rescue and Saving Teams), a voluntary civilian organization that specializes in search and rescue missions. The team is composed of members of Israel’s civilian rescue teams from around the country, commanded by retired Lt. Col. Tsafrir Shifman. The experienced organization can provide search and rescue support as well as medical services.

Chairman of F.I.R.S.T, retired Brig. Gen. Avi Bachar, said the teams are ready to ship out and provide support to those in need, as it has done over the past 20 years in 11 countries across the world.

Israeli rescue missions have responded to many recent natural disasters, including the earthquake in Japan in 2011, the Haiti disaster in 2010 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

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