Just Like Adam and Eve

(©iStockphoto.com/bhofack2 )


TEL AVIV — The music pounded, the liquor flowed, dancers filled the floor and khinkali meat dumplings and kababi skewers — staples of traditional Georgian cuisines — sat on almost every table.

That was back in February, before Nana Shrier, the owner of the hip Tel Aviv bar and restaurant Nanuchka, saw a television news report about factory farming. Then everything changed.

Abhorred by how animals are treated in industrial meat and dairy production, Shrier stripped all the animal products from the menu — from cheese to eggs to chicken and steak — and made the restaurant entirely vegan.

It wasn’t an easy shift. Retaining the restaurant’s Georgian character has forced Shrier to get creative, finding meat substitutes and trying new dishes. She has also noticed that customers order less hard alcohol when they don’t eat meat. But none of that matters to her.

“We understood that there’s no price worth paying to create animal products, to see, to sell, to produce or to buy them,” she said. “The atmosphere is pleasant, but I would have paid any price. I would have lost half my business for this.”

According to the activist group Vegan-Friendly, Shrier is one of approximately 300,000 vegans in Israel. At nearly 4 percent of the country, activists say Israel has the highest per capita vegan population of anywhere in the world. And the trend appears to be accelerating.

A survey conducted in January found that 8 percent of Israelis are vegetarian and nearly 5 percent are vegan. Four years ago, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported that just 2.6 percent of Israelis were vegetarian or vegan.

Some 7,000 Israelis have accepted the Challenge 22 to go vegan for 22 days since the initiative was launched in May by the animal rights group Anonymous. About 250 Israeli restaurants are now certified “vegan friendly” by the group of the same name, meaning that at least one-quarter of their dishes contain no animal products.

Israel is also frequently included on lists of the world’s most vegan-friendly nations, thanks in part to the fact that national staples such as falafel and hummus contain no animal products. And on Oct. 13, Tel Aviv’s second annual Vegan-Fest drew more than 10,000 attendees to a festival of food, crafts and music that organizers claim is the world’s largest.

“The makeup of the community is the biggest change,” said Omri Paz, founder of Vegan-Friendly, which organized the festival. “In the past, maybe they were more spiritual, or people society viewed as a little different, a little strange. A lot of the new vegans are mainstream — vegan lawyers, vegan teachers. Everyone can be vegan.”

The alternative and the mainstream mingled freely at the festival, where people wearing baggy tie-dyed pants and shirts reading “Proud To Be Vegan” mixed with families enjoying picnics. The food stands lining the park offered everything from vegan cakes and ice cream to vegan shwarma, Israel’s trademark spiced lamb dish.

Even Domino’s Pizza had a booth showcasing its vegan pies — first sold in Israel. Ido Fridman, the vice president of marketing for Domino’s Israel, said the company has sold about 300,000 vegan pizzas since launching the pie last year.

Israel’s vegan boom comes at a time of heightened awareness of animal welfare on factory farms.

A Hebrew-subtitled lecture on veganism has garnered nearly a million views on YouTube in a country of just 8 million people. One-fifth of the country tuned in to see a vegan activist win the latest season of the Israeli version of the “Big Brother” reality television show. And a popular investigative news show has broadcast six segments exposing the mistreatment of animals in Israel’s meat and dairy industries.

The heightened consciousness around animal welfare has bolstered vegan activists. Founded just two years ago, Vegan-Friendly has seen attendance at its festival jump 25 percent this year. Another animal rights group founded two years ago, Free 269, recently opened Israel’s first sanctuary for animals from factory farms and has spawned dozens of offshoots in other countries.

“There’s the virality of Facebook and YouTube, so the messages and the pictures and videos are exposed to tons of people,” Paz said. “It helps that people are used to eating falafel and Israeli salad.”

Israeli veganism took root in secular liberal circles, but religious Israelis are joining the movement, too. Many note that the biblical Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden.

Yehuda Shein, the chairman of Behemla, a religious organization that advocates against animal cruelty, says he is undeterred by the time-honored custom of eating meat on Shabbat and holidays.

“There’s no commandment to eat meat,” Shein said. “People make their own adjustments. They stop eating meat, they do something else. But our goal is to bring the information to the public.”

Veganism is not entirely a new development in Israel. The African Hebrew Israelites have abstained from animal products for decades. But while activists have cheered the recent growth in vegan awareness, veteran vegans fear it may be a passing fad.

Arie Rave, who started the vegan Buddha Burgers restaurant in Tel Aviv eight years ago and is about to open his sixth franchise, said he hopes new adherents take it seriously.

“People don’t become vegan in one day,” said Rave, whose restaurants are filled with posters touting veganism’s moral, health and ecological benefits. “It’s not one day or one conversation. It’s not just a menu. It’s an ideology.”

‘Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue’

103114_cover_oped_FroshMost of us first hear this title phrase in the book of Deuteronomy. No words better capture the work I have strived to do as a legislator in the Maryland General Assembly or the legacy I hope to leave as your next attorney general.

As a child, I watched my father stand up to Joe McCarthy and defend government employees during the Red Scare. I saw him fight to end racial discrimination as a member of the Montgomery County Council. I learned from him the importance of fighting for justice for everyone, especially those who have nowhere to turn for protection. It ignited my lifelong passion for justice rooted in values of tikkun olam (repairing the world).

I have spent the past 20 years in the Maryland Senate fighting for justice and working to make Maryland safer. I led the fight to pass the landmark legislation that bans assault weapons and keeps guns out of the hands of criminals, the law that increases protections for victims of domestic violence, laws that protect children from abuse and laws that protect the Chesapeake Bay and our precious natural resources.

I plan to continue this work as attorney general, focusing on justice for every Marylander in every corner of our state. I will enforce Maryland’s common sense gun law and defend it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary because it makes communities safer. I will do all I can to make sure that Marylanders are safe at home, at school and online. That is why the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed me. I will stand up for consumers and working families. That is why the AFL-CIO has endorsed me. I will work hard to ensure that every child in our state gets a quality education. That is why the Maryland State Education Association has endorsed me. I will protect the rights of women to make their own health care decisions. That is why the National Organization for Women has endorsed me. And I will use the full force of the office to make sure that every man, woman and child in our state has clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. That is why the Maryland Sierra Club and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters have endorsed me.

As a native of Montgomery County and member of the General Assembly since 1986, I am deeply proud of our longtime partnership together. I grew up in Bethesda, graduated from Walter Johnson High School and raised my family in Montgomery County. We belong to Adat Shalom Congregation. I have served on the boards of directors of the Jewish Community Center and the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington; I have partnered in the General Assembly with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Baltimore Jewish Council on projects and policy; and I have won support for the communal institutions of the Jewish community, career services, educational programs, in-home support, nursing care and volunteer assistance. I am eager to continue our close collaboration in the future

I first heard the term “justice, justice you shall pursue” at a young age in synagogue. I was educated on its importance watching my father at work in the 1950s. And I have spent my entire career working to fulfill it as a citizen, father, legislator, attorney and candidate. I am eager to continue the pursuit of justice as your attorney general, putting the law on the side of the people to protect every Maryland family. I hope to earn your vote on Election Day, Nov. 4.

Brian Frosh is the Democratic candidate for attorney general. He is a state senator (D-Montgomery) and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the Maryland General Assembly.

Cardin, Franchot Endorse Jalisi

This time, the endorsements are real.

Unlike a flurry of so-called endorsements of District 10 delegate candidate Hasan “Jay” Jalisi in the days leading up to the June 24 Democratic primary that were quickly denied by the politicians supposedly making them, high-ranking officials are now backing the Democrat despite lingering questions over his residency.

Jalisi’s campaign announced an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin last week. He has also been endorsed by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and boasts statements of support from U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes and Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Micheal Busch.

In the days before the primary, Jalisi’s endorsements and statements of support on his website made him the subject of some negative press when Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond and state Del. Dan Morhaim released a joint statement clarifying their support for three of the other candidates in the race. The statement was in response to quotes attributed to the pair praising Jalisi’s work in the community.

Del. Dana Stein also released a statement clairfying that he had not endorsed Jalisi.

Recent campaigning by the only Republican candidate in the race, William Newton, has put the resident agent of Jalisi’s real estate company in the spotlight. Aaron Seltzer was named HMJ 1411 Division, LLC’s resident agent in late July. Seltzer, a former lawyer, was disbarred in 2011 after being found in violation of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. He was indicted in 2013 on nine counts of wire fraud in connection with a real estate investment scheme in which it was alleged he stole $747,860 from potential investors for his own personal use. The case is ongoing.

Freundel Planned to Take More Female Towson Students on Tour

Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)

Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)

A Towson University senior who is taking a class Rabbi Barry Freundel taught prior to his arrest said she and “a couple of other girls” were invited to tour his synagogue.

“I had never planned on doing the mikvah, but going to the synagogue sounded like a cool experience,” Karen Berry, who is a student in the “Judeo-Christian Perspectives in Medical Ethics” class, said Thursday afternoon outside the classroom.

Freundel was arrested on Oct. 14 for allegedly setting up a hidden camera disguised as a clock radio in the National Capital Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath next door to his Washington, D.C., synagogue, Kesher Israel Congregation, in Georgetown. He is charged with six counts of voyeurism, to which he has pleaded not guilty. He is suspended without pay from his synagogue and suspended from all faculty responsibilities at Towson.

On Wednesday, the university began its own investigation into whether or not Freundel violated Title IX guidelines that pertain to sexual misconduct, university spokesman Ray Feldmann said. His office in the university’s liberal arts building was searched by police the previous day.

“There are parts of the Title IX law that pertain to sexual misconduct and behavior that creates what’s called an ‘impermissible hostile environment,’” explained Feldmann. A violation would mean Freundel’s actions interfered with a student’s ability to continue his or her education at Towson. “We’re certainly not accusing Dr. Freundel of having done these things, but we’re looking at whether or not he did.”

Feldmann said university officials felt they had enough reason to investigate Freundel based on information from students, which the university has been collecting since the arrest.

He said the university probably won’t make a decision on Freundel’s long-term status at Towson until both the Title IX investigation and the criminal investigation have concluded.

Berry said Freundel, who first started teaching at Towson in 2009 as a tenured professor, seemed knowledgeable.

“He was very prominent in the Jewish community so I figured he would be a good professor,” she said.

At least a half-dozen other students used the National Capital Mikvah during class trips, according to an unnamed woman who helped Freundel with the mikvah from late 2013 through May, The Washington Post reported. She wasn’t sure if students were recorded, but is afraid they might have been, she told the newspaper.

Another woman told The Post that she noticed a clock in the bath area as far back as 2012. According to reports, there was also a fan in the mikvah, and a manual for a fan with a hidden camera was found at Freundel’s home.

Nicole Coniglio, a senior mass communication major, told student newspaper The Towerlight that she toured the synagogue for a religious studies class she was taking with Freundel. While on the tour, she and other students were asked to shower in the mikveh, and while she declined, two of her Jewish classmates accepted.

Towerlight editor-in-chief Jonathan Munshaw, who is in the same class as Berry, said students came to class the day their professor was arrested and waited about 20 minutes before leaving.

“The arrest occurred in D.C., so even as a reporter, I was, frankly, behind the story,” Munshaw said. He wrote a piece later that afternoon, but since removed himself from reporting on further developments. He said the next class was “emotionally draining.”

That class resumed on Tuesday with Rabbi Avram Reisner of Chevrei Tzedek teaching.

“At the end, he just said, ‘This is obviously a very unfortunate situation. I’m very disappointed,’ and just opened the floor to everyone who wanted to share their thoughts,” Munshaw said of the new professor on Wednesday.

Reisner said that first day of teaching Freundel’s classes was somewhat difficult, but his job was to get things back on track academically.

“When I walked in, there was a little bit of discomfort among the students,” he acknowledged a day later. “Today, I’m teaching a normal class.”

Feldmann said that in addition to gathering information, the university is offering resources to those with questions or having difficulty processing what happened.

“A lot of students are very upset, feel like he was a good professor,” Feldmann said, “somebody they admired and looked up to.”

The university is also encouraging students who may have information that could aid in the police’s criminal investigation to report it to university police, who may then refer them to Washington, D.C., police.

“Anything Dr. Freundel is accused of doing in D.C., we don’t believe he did anything like that at Towson University,” Feldmann said.

While there have been no complaints against Freundel in the past — the university even looked at past student evaluations — and learning opportunities outside of class are encouraged, Feldmann said taking students to the mikvah was “where it would have crossed the line.”

“We encourage our faculty to create off-campus learning activities for our students,” he said. “The mikvah portion of a class trip is something we would not have condoned or sanctioned had we known about it.”


Testing Your Knowledge

NewsUp founders Andrew Schuster (left) and Coleman Anderson. Photo by Marc Shapiro

NewsUp founders Andrew Schuster (left) and Coleman Anderson. Photo by Marc Shapiro

At a time when statistics say young people are less aware of current events than perhaps ever before, the founders of Baltimore-based NewsUp think they have the solution.

Years ago, brothers Andrew and Jason Schuster, along with their friend Coleman Anderson, wanted to start a news outlet that millennials could relate to. Last month, they launched NewsUp, a website devoted entirely to relaying the news through interactive quizzes. From quizzes about local craft beers to Maryland’sgubernatorial race to Orioles statistics, the site offers people a way to test what they know about the biggest news both locally and internationally and read up on what they don’t have a clue about.

“In our generation, with the birth of mobile devices and social media — as these devices have gotten smaller and information has just exponentially increased in availability — content has gotten smaller and smaller,” said Andrew Schuster. “Long form just isn’t an ideal type of content for the medium. Anything that’s just quick and easy and digestible is proven to be the most effective way to deliver information on these devices.”

The five-person NewsUp staff works to provide content that both informs and engages their audience. Most of this audience, they’ve found, consists of 25- to 30-year-olds who are, for the most part, up to date on current events, but they have heard from some teachers who have incorporated it into their lessons and even some mothers who use it as a way to pass the time at sporting events.

“Our mission is making news fun,” said Schuster. And if the audience becomes more interested in the topic and chooses to learn more about it, all the better.

When users take one of NewsUp’s quizzes — most are a standard 10 questions — they are given scores upon completion and a breakdown of which questions they got right and wrong, along with a brief explanation about each topic and a link to a more in-depth story on the subject.

In the second month since its official launch, a major focus has been to emphasize local content. While they have seen users from all over the world, their primary market is the Baltimore area. All three founders are from the region, and, in the years of development, they have found Baltimore to be the ideal place to launch a startup company.

As part of Baltimore-based incubator Accelerate Baltimore, they have been supported by executives from other Baltimore businesses, such as Under Armor and Millennial Media.

“Being a business in Baltimore, which is where I’m from, has been amazing just because we’re working with entrepreneurs who are local, who are trying to make Baltimore a more attractive place for business, and we’re really kind of right in the middle of this entrepreneurial, startup ecosystem evolution here in Baltimore,” said Schuster. “The community here has been a tremendous resource. I think Baltimore’s probably one of the best places in the world to have a startup right now.”

It helps, he added, to have a company built around fun. Between board meetings and paperwork, Schuster said he likes to make some of the quizzes himself. And the competitive nature of their company runs all the way up the ranks of their staff.

“We’re thinking about making a leader board for our staff,” said Schuster.

“Everybody wants to have the quiz that gets the most hits.”





A Real Dog Fight

The ACLU of Maryland claims volunteers and advocates such as Reform BCAS (pictured) are being hushed in free speech. Photo by David Stuck

The ACLU of Maryland claims volunteers and advocates such as Reform BCAS (pictured) are being hushed in free speech.
Photo by David Stuck

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland claims Baltimore County Animal Services (BCAS) has policies and practices that aim to undermine the shelter’s public accountability.

In a statement, the ACLU raised concerns about the shelter, which is in Baldwin in northern Baltimore County, preventing volunteers and members of the public from documenting and speaking out about its conditions and practices.

A group called Reform Baltimore County Animal Services has been staging protests and calling for increased community outreach and transparency to reduce the county-run shelter’s kill rate and increase adoptions as well as improve facility conditions and veterinary care and increase its volunteer force.

The ACLU statement cites concerns by “numerous advocates, including Reform BCAS” reporting that volunteers and advocates are being hushed in their free speech through retaliation or threats of retaliation and have been banned from taking certain kinds of photos.

“Our rights under the First Amendment are the foundation of Americans’ ability to hold government agencies accountable,” Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. “That is why it raises red flags for the Baltimore County Animal Shelter to selectively impose restrictions upon photography and speech freedoms at the facility, seemingly in an effort to stifle criticism.”

County officials have dismissed Reform BCAS’s complaints before, calling them “unfounded” and saying they work to adopt animals out as quickly as possible.

ACLU cited several incidents, including the removal of a volunteer who was photographing animals, a Facebook post to the Reform BCAS page from Don Mohler, chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, that said citizens can’t take photos of animals at the shelter and volunteers who told the ACLU that they were afraid to speak out. The statement also said two ACLU volunteers who posed as a couple looking to adopt a pet and brought with them large cameras said they were able to take photos, but a shelter official said it would not have been allowed for “inappropriate” purposes such as “if you were from Channel 2.”

Baltimore County officials said they do not have a policy against photographing animals at the shelter.

“It’s never been about photography — it’s about people coming into the facility and disrupting the work of staff trying to do their jobs,” county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said via email. “When volunteers are working at the shelter, they have specific tasks that don’t include photography, so they have been asked not to take pictures during their shifts. They are welcome to come back at other times as members of the public and take pictures.”

Kobler also mentioned that shutter clicks and flash photography can frighten nervous animals. The county plans to open a new, $6 million shelter in August 2015 that will have more kennel space, a meet-and-greet for adoptions, a surgical center, two dog parks (one for the shelter and one for the public) and a cat socialization room. The shelter also hired two full-time veterinarians and introduced public spay and neuter services earlier this year.

The county maintains that the accusations from Reform BCAS and the ACLU are groundless.“This is a story manufactured by a handful of advocates who have disrupted shelter employees from their work taking care of animals,” Kobler said. “The story is generated by a group of people who want the county to release feral cats into neighborhoods.”


PJ Our Way Launches in Baltimore

PJ Your Way is expanding its program to include children from the ages of 9 to 11

PJ Your Way is expanding its program to include children from the ages of 9 to 11

Pizza, bowling and books. Sounds like the perfect recipe. PJ Library, a national program that provides free books with Jewish content to families, is launching its PJ Our Way Program in Baltimore. With more than 200 programs across the country, PJ Library handpicked Baltimore as one of 10 pilot cities to begin its new initiative for older children.

While their initial program is for families with children ranging from 6 months to 8 years old, PJ Our Way is widening the age range for 9 to 11 years old. This Sunday, Oct. 26, the project will host a bowling and pizza party at the Pikesville AMF Bowling Lanes from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to celebrate.

“We are opening this event up to 7 and 8 year olds as well,” said Lara Nicolson, the local PJ Library coordinator. “The idea is to create your own account, choose one book every month and read the books of your choice. For our younger children, we select the books. We want to give the older kids more freedom.”

With students charged $5 for admission, parents come free. The event also offers camp discounts,
including a $500 raffle for new campers to attend any partner camp of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore for free. Erica Perl, author of “When Life Gives You OJ” and “Aces Wild” will also be there. “We are so excited to have Erica Perl join us,” said Nicolson. “How often can you come face-to-face with an author?”

As an organization, the PJ Library in Baltimore has already made strides, noted one client, non-Jewish mother of two Jorie Rozencwaig. She heard about the program through the Mother’s Circle at the Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills.

“Through the Mother’s Circle, I discovered the PJ Library, and I figured why not?” said Rozencwaig, who is raising her kids Jewish. “My kids really look forward to receiving the books, and many of the books have expanded my knowledge of Jewish culture. We have been really happy with the program so far.”

For more information, visit cjebaltimore.org/pjbowls .

Kirchner Honored by National Fallen Firefighters

Although his untimely death was nearly a year-and-a-half ago, time has not forgotten Gene Meir Kirchner, a member of the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company who died at age 25 on May 2, 2013, eight days after he was critically injured while attempting to rescue someone from a house fire.

On Sunday, Oct. 12, Kirchner was honored at the 33rd Annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, Md. He and Perryville firefighter Capt. David Barr Jr. were two of 98 firefighters who died in 2013 and nine who died in previous years who were honored at the service, which was held at the National Fire Academy. It drew more than 5,000 people, including members of Congress and other dignitaries, and included participation by members of the fire service, honor guard units and pipe and drum units from all over the country.

The names of those honored were added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial on the academy grounds. Kirchner joined the Reisterstown company at age 14 as a junior firefighter. His twin brother, Will, and his sister, Shelly Brezicki, also volunteer there.

“It came very naturally to him,” Brezicki said of her brother’s fire service. “I think he wanted to have a purpose. He found that every day he wanted to do something that bettered someone else.”Kirchner, who graduated from Owings Mills High School, spent most of his time at the fire station, with his family or at his job as a dispatch controller with Butler Medical transport. He was posthumously honored by the Reisterstown Fire Company with a Medal of Honor and also at Fallen Heroes Day at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in May, exactly one year after his death.

While Brezicki said her brother was not one to seek recognition, she hopes people find inspiration in his sacrifice. “Our biggest hope is that people remember that Gene ran into a burning building to save a stranger, and there is nothing more heroic than that,” she said. “He ran into a building fully knowing the risk that was involved to save someone he didn’t know.”

CineFest Promises ‘Best of the Best’

On Sunday, Oct. 26, The Gordon Center for the Performing Arts will open its eighth annual CineFest with “Rock the Casbah,” a 2012 film that takes place during the first intifada in Israel. The film, directed by Yariv Horowitz, is one of four selected by members of the JCC Jewish Film Festival Committee, chaired by Marty Cohen. Cohen said the committee has worked diligently to choose “the best of the best” films with Jewish and Israeli themes for fellow community members.

In addition to “Rock the Casbah,” CineFest includes a screening of the 2012 film, “The Third Half,” directed by Darko Mitrevski. A second-place Audience Award winner at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, “The Third Half” is a World War II story about the Macedonia Football Club and its German-Jewish coach, to be screened on Wed., Oct. 29.

“Harbour of Hope,” which will be screened on Nov. 2, is a 2011 Swedish/ Polish documentary directed by Mangus Gertten. The film tells the true stories of three Holocaust survivors who settled in Sweden after the war. And “Last Dance,” a 2012 Austalian film to be screened on Nov. 6, is about a Holocaust survivor living in Melbourne who is re-traumatized when she becomes hostage to a terrorist who has taken refuge in her home.

Cohen said that the committee makes an effort to bring films from diverse countries and genres. “We
try to get a mix of documentaries, dramas and comedies,” he said. “These are the kind of films you aren’t going to see on Netflix, or even at art houses. All are Baltimore premieres. CineFest and the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival [held in the spring] serve as important parts of the JCC’s art and culture offerings,” said Cohen.

For additional information and to purchase tickets for CineFest, visit gordoncenter.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC and the Weinberg Park Heights JCC or by calling 410-599-3510.

Volunteers for Israel Will Work on IDF Base

At the end of this month, 10 men and nine women — ranging in age from 28 to 80 — will be traveling to Israel, but not on a leisure trip. Volunteers for Israel in the U.S, in conjunction with Sar-El, an Israeli-based volunteer organization, will send the group to work for two weeks on an Israel Defense Forces base to help with everything from cleaning and repairing military equipment and re-packing supplies for Israeli soldiers in the field to working in the kitchen.

Sar-El is one of three IDF-approved organizations that connect volunteers to work on-base. Lawrence Feldman, VFI national president, will be volunteering this month for the fourth time with his wife, Joan.

Feldman explained that volunteers must fill out detailed paperwork including medical forms, and VFI interviews each participant “so they know what they’re getting into, and for us to make sure they’re appropriate for the program.” Participants must be capable to complete tasks that would be required on a military base such as walking a mile in extreme heat or lifting 20 pounds. “They’re here to help the army,” he said.

VFI sends volunteer groups twice a month throughout the year. Volunteers receive reduced airfare and free room and board. Once arrived, volunteers are issued IDF uniforms, stay in army barracks described as sparse lodgings and wake up at 6 a.m. each day. Feldman added, people “don’t go for the food.”

But there are many repeat volunteers, and it’s an incredibly powerful experience for all who attend, he said. Volunteers work side by side with Israeli soldiers and have an opportunity to know them socially and get a taste of IDF from inside the country, not just through the news.

“It gives you an opportunity to help Israel with your own hands,” said Feldman. “It is a unique and tangible way.”