Polish Synagogue Defiled By Swastikas

Swastikas and other anti-Semitic symbols were painted on a synagogue building in Gdansk, Poland.

The vandalism was spotted on the facade of the building on Monday morning.

“Someone just came in broad daylight and defiled our temple,” Mieczyslaw Abramowicz a representative of the Gdansk Jewish community, told TVN24 television. “It was done by anti-Semites or someone who does not know what that sign means and he did it out of sheer stupidity.”

Police investigating the case are not excluding the possibility that it may be the same vandals who three weeks ago set fire to a mosque in the city that caused approximately $16,000 in damages.

The synagogue vandalism was classified as the promotion of Nazi symbols, which could result in two years in prison.

 

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>> 

NSA Director Defends Surveillance Programs

The director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, opened a talk on cyber security Thursday, Nov. 11 in Baltimore by reminding attendees of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Every one of us remembers 9/11,” Alexander said, adding that the NSA office has a big photo of firemen running into the World Trade Center to save people. The firemen and police officers did everything they could to defend the country that day,” he said, and “we in the military and intelligence community said ‘we’ve got it from here.’”

“These are programs that were developed to defend this country,” Alexander said in reference to some of the agency’s surveillance programs that have recently come under fire for their broad scope and implications for individual privacy.

The talk, titled “Cyber Challenges,” was hosted by the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs at the Hyatt Regency and filled the ballroom to near-capacity.

Alexander compared the responsibility of running these programs to holding a hornet’s nest. He doesn’t like having to do it, he said, but he and his agency continue to do so because “it is our fear that there will be a gap and the potential for another 9/11,” if they do not.

Alexander defended the programs and credited a lot of the negativity to misinformation distributed by the media.

The NSA, Alexander said, does not monitor the content of calls or emails, but rather just looks to see if any of the lines in its database are in contact with any numbers or emails associated with suspected terror organizations.

While individual privacy is a priority for the government, Alexander said, national security is the top priority. Not only is his and all of his family’s information in the database, but “to ensure their safety, I’d put that data in there every day.”

After Alexander’s talk, the floor opened for questions from attendees. When one questioner asked about recent reports of the NSA monitoring the phones of foreign heads of state, Alexander interrupted him.

“Alleged,” he interjected.

“I guarantee that these things do cut both ways,” he said by way of defense of any monitoring of foreign officials.

To another questioner, James Carew Rosapepe, Maryland state senator and former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, who asked Alexander about the justification for using tools intended for defending the country against terrorism against democratically elected heads of allied states, he responded that the NSA does not make the policies, it simply carries them out.

For a man who has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny lately, the reception at the event was relatively warm. With just a handful of protestors outside the hotel, there were very few signs indicating the degree to which the NSA has been the subject of such dispute over the past few months.

Stephanie Hershkovitz, who recently joined the Baltimore foreign affairs council, said the talk didn’t offer anything she considered to be especially groundbreaking.

“He was kind of a spokesperson today,” she said.

But, she added, as with most talks by high-ranking officials, “that’s the nature of the beast.”

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.

Why?

“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.”

Stamping Out Intolerance

Special education teacher Janna Freishtat (left) and English teacher Cyndie Fagan have been instrumental in moving the Six Million Stamps Project forward. Shown here, they sit with a tub of thousands of stamps, many still waiting to be processed. (Photo by Melissa Gerr)

Special education teacher Janna Freishtat (left) and English teacher Cyndie Fagan have been instrumental in moving the Six Million Stamps Project forward. Shown here, they sit with a tub of thousands of stamps, many still waiting to be processed.
(Photos by Melissa Gerr)

Six Million.

For the past five years, since 2008, students at Mount Hebron High School have been working on a project trying to comprehend what those words stand for and to create something tangible that could adequately represent their meaning.

As part of their curriculum, incoming freshmen read “Night,” a memoir by Elie Wiesel about surviving Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Many students had not heard of the Holocaust or had difficult questions, struggling to grasp what six million means. High School teacher Cyndie Fagan wanted to help them understand.

She began by showing students a book from the Paper Clips Project (Tennessee high school students collected 15 million paper clips to have a tangible reference and commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust), and Fagan’s class thought something similar would help them comprehend the number and the gravity of the Holocaust. The class decided stamps would be a good way to commemorate the lives lost.

Fagan, who collected stamps as a child said, “Each of those postage stamps tells a story, just like each person who died had a story.”

Dozens of ninth-graders each year become involved with collecting, cutting out and counting the stamps. The completed work is stored in dozens of huge plastic tubs in closets and Fagan’s classroom. They get lots of donated stamps (they’ve inherited them from deceased collectors, and a parent who owns a utility company regularly donates several hundred stamps from mailed-in payments). They still have a long way to go, and many students remain involved well after ninth grade.

110113_Stamping-Out-Intolerance2“It’s kind of a way to make people aware because six million is so intangible,” said sophomore Tara Bellido de Luna. “It’s hard to realize how many stamps and how many people that really is. … It does represent people in the Holocaust, but it could also represent what potentially could happen if we don’t start tolerating people. … People don’t fear other people, they fear the difference in what they don’t know. That’s kind of what starts it all.”

Junior Emily Kader has been involved since her older brother Joey was a freshman, the year the project began. She’s collected stamps when attending Camp Louise; neighboring Camp Airy participated, too. Her synagogue, Beth Shalom in Columbia, also contributes.

“My zayde [Fred Kader] was actually a Holocaust survivor, and so the whole cause is important to us; he helped us cut and count the stamps and has been a part of the process,” said Kader.

Freshman Amogh Arun just joined the project, and he’s building a website to get out the word for more stamps. Freshman Evan Johnson’s brother chose this for his bar mitzvah project, so his family has been gathering stamps the whole year. Collectively, the students are working on a video to send to the Ellen DeGeneres show, “Ellen,” in hopes that she’ll help get the word out and that stamps will start flowing in.

Special Education teacher Janna Freishtat co-teaches the English class with Fagan. Her grandmother is, and her late grandfather was, a Holocaust survivor.

“What I can bring is the personal story, and it makes it more real for them because they say, ‘Oh, you mean you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that they lived?’ They were shocked that I would have been affected if I lived at that time. They couldn’t grasp that until we explained, ‘Your teacher or your neighbor could be taken,’” Freishtat said.

Fagan is determined to complete the project, and Freishtat claims, in addition to stamp donations and the students’ work, it is Fagan’s energy and perseverance that keeps it going. To give some perspective, six million stamps would cover three-and-a-half football fields. When finished, plans are to create a mural with the stamps dedicated to tolerance of others, and the remaining would be held in a giant Plexiglas cylinder near the mural.

Part of the goal is to help students connect the experience and the project to something bigger.

Fagan said, “My hope is that something we shared with them during this ninth-grade year, that when they’re adults, they will hear something or see something, and it will trigger that ‘aha’ moment for them.”

No donation is too big or too small
Mount Hebron students have collected two million stamps, and they need more. As the students are saying: “Please send stamps!”

Mail stamps to:
Mount Hebron High School
Attn: Cyndie Fagan
9440 Route 99
Ellicott City, MD 21042

For more information, visit click here.

Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor — mgerr@jewishtimes.com

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

Read related articles:
Leading The Way
Revolution in Bedouin Women’s Education
Aim For The Stars
‘Lean In’

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.

Read related articles:
Leading The Way
Banking On A Woman
Aim For The Stars
‘Lean In’

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

Read related articles:
Leading The Way
Banking On A Woman
Revolution in Bedouin Women’s Education
‘Lean In’

‘Lean In’

“Lean In” has become a slogan of sorts for working woman across the country. When Sheryl Sandberg wrote and published, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” which chronicles her personal journey and navigation of work and life — she served as the chief operating officer of Facebook at the time of its publication — she likely had no idea the impact it would have on today’s women.

Or maybe she did.

Recent studies show that young women think careers will give their lives as much or more meaning than marriage and family. But many others want both. And the message of “Lean In” is you can have it all — but that there will be challenges to overcome.

At Beth El Congregation on Nov. 6, four community women professionals and leaders (all of them moms) will tackle the challenge of being mommy and an M.D. or Esq. or just plain boss at the same time. An 8 p.m. talk, part of the Beth El’s Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Lifelong Learning division, will present Lynn Abeshouse, managing principal of Abeshouse Partners, a commercial real estate brokerage firm; Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander, of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland; Dr. Diane J. Orlinsky, a Towson dermatologist; and Jodi Brodie, owner of Treasure House Accessories.

“Many women in our community were reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book and really want to figure it out,” said Rabbi Dana Saroken, who is spearheading the project. “For some reason we never had a communal conversation about this.”

But these successful women have, for the most part, thought about it for themselves.

Dr. Orlinsky, who was recently named a Top Doc by Baltimore Magazine, for example, said she was always drawn to medicine. When she first started at Columbia University, she realized that pre-med was extremely difficult and thought that maybe she should instead become a lawyer. But after a friend was hit by a car and confined to a hospital for one year — she visited him every day — she knew she needed to be an M.D. She made the decision to do all of her pre-med requirements immediately, to take the Medical College Admissions Test and apply. One year later, she was studying at Johns Hopkins.

Being a woman was never an issue, said Dr. Orlinsky.

“I never thought, ‘I am a woman, so I cannot do this,’” she said.

But she certainly had much to navigate. Married just after medical school, Dr. Orlinsky was the only resident in the internal medicine rotation at Hopkins to become pregnant.

“People did not get pregnant when you were a resident there. You made a commitment, and it was this unspoken agreement. So I did not make a lot of friends,” she said. “But my husband and I knew we wanted four kids, and I wasn’t going to wait.”

Dr. Orlinsky had one child during that residency, another during her dermatology residency (also at Hopkins) and two more when she started working. She recalls one doctor telling her, “You look so cute in your scrubs, like a real surgeon.” She didn’t work for him very long. Instead, she joined with mentor Dr. Eva Simmons-O’Brien and never looked back.

“I have paved my way,” said Dr. Orlinsky, “and I have not let anyone stop me.”

The big elephant in the room: “‘How do you do it all?’ people ask. And that is what the book says. You can do it all, but you cannot do it all yourself. Don’t finish everything. You have to compromise. You have to have a good spouse, a good support system. … Be realistic.”

Judge Hollander

Judge Hollander
(Photo provided)

Judge Hollander expressed similar sentiments. Now with three grown and married children, two grandchildren and a third grandchild on the way, Judge Hollander said, “It was a constant juggling act.” She recalled that when she graduated from law school in 1974, only 10 percent of her class were women.

“I have seen a sea change in the legal profession,” she said, noting there has been a growing influx of women.

Being a lawyer and a mother of young children was no easy feat. She recalled that some days she would come home thinking she was no good at either job; it was so hard to divide into a million pieces and meet everyone’s needs. She lugged frozen home-cooked meals back from New York to feed the children, meals her mom would prepare for her family.

But she never stopped. She said she was afraid to get on the mommy track because, “I was afraid I wouldn’t get back on the professional track. So I kept plugging away.”

Judge Hollander’s advice: “Keep your eye on the prize. … Anything worth doing is worth doing well — that applies to home and professional life.”

Her wish is that there were better and more affordable child-care options. She said just finding quality, affordable child care remains one of the biggest challenges for women seeking to work outside the home.

Abeshouse said she never had a negative experience being a woman, despite her being in a predominantly male industry.
“They have always encouraged me,” she said.

And she said one of the best things she did along the way was seek out mentors — men and women — and take advantage of the skills she thinks she possesses, in part because of her gender.

Abeshouse said she thinks most women are good at multitasking, prioritizing, using their intuition and leveraging their relationships.

“I have tried to the very best of my ability to utilize [those skills] to my advantage,” she said.

Noted Judge Hollander: “I don’t really think there is a glass ceiling. You just have to keep dreaming things are possible.”

For more information about the panel discussion, visit bethelbalto.com.

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

Read related articles:
Leading The Way
Banking On A Woman
Revolution in Bedouin Women’s Education
Aim For The Stars

Innovation Station

The JCC offers special needs programming year round.

The JCC offers special needs programming year round.

Baltimore has landed itself, once again, on the list innovators.

Last week when “The Slingshot 2013-2014 Guide” was released, two area organizations, the Pearlstone Center and the Jewish Community Center, both agencies of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, made the list of North America’s Top 50 innovative Jewish organizations. This is the third year Pearlstone has made the list.

Selected from among hundreds of finalists reviewed by 83 professionals with expertise in grant-making and Jewish communal life, the guide called Pearlstone “Baltimore’s vibrant Jewish farming community. The Pearlstone Center is successful in introducing its ideas to a wide range of audiences by being interwoven with a retreat center. … It is extremely innovative and continues to push the envelope in the Jewish eco-justice field.”

The JCC was recognized for its efforts to include and provide for people with special needs.

Approximately 25 years ago, the JCC began providing social programs on a monthly basis for Jewish adults with disabilities. These options included a special needs Passover Seder and an inclusion program at its camp. Today, the JCC’s special needs programming includes year-round social and recreational programming, new vocational programs and an after-school childcare inclusion program. Approximately one year ago, the JCC added to its portfolio the Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance, which includes a parent-to-parent network for parents of children with physical, mental or emotional challenges. The JCC is serving around 130 children, teens and adults with a variety of special needs throughout the year.

According to Stacy Israel, director of special needs services for the JCC, BJAA is already being seen as a national model. The BJAA website provides the largest resource directory in Maryland.

Israel said that while caring for people with special needs is “core to our mission” at the JCC, it is in the last handful of years that the JCC has more than doubled the variety of programs available for this population. Israel said the need for special needs programming has increased, too. Today, she noted, one in 88 children is born with autism. And that is just one example.

“We realized we had to step up our game,” she said, “and have more programs to accommodate the rise in disabilities.”

Organizations included in this year’s guide were evaluated on their innovative approach, the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector and their effectiveness at achieving results.

“‘The Slingshot Guide’ is an essential resource for putting a national spotlight on inspiring work happening in local communities across North America,” said Julie Finkelstein, program director of Slingshot. “Highlighting organizations throughout the Baltimore-metro area is a testament to the community’s commitment to building and sustaining engaging, relevant and impactful Jewish opportunities. Through ‘Slingshot,’ members of our national network of doers and donors learn about Baltimore’s inspiring stories, and Baltimoreans of all ages are introduced to some of the most innovative Jewish opportunities happening in their own backyards. ‘Slingshot’ is proud to partner with many area organizations, foundations and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to support Baltimore’s successful drive toward Jewish innovation.”

Of the 50 “Slingshot” groups, the average founding year is 2005 and the average annual budget is $717,320. Women lead 52 percent of the group. The book is available in hard copy and as a free download.

In a separate celebration, Jakir Manela, executive director of the Pearlstone Center, was recently named a recipient of the Jewish Communal Service Association’s Young Professional Award. Manela will accept this award in Jerusalem at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly on Nov. 10.

“We are on the cutting edge of Jewish innovation, led by a dynamic and visionary director,” said Pearlstone Board Chair Ilene Vogelstein. “Our mission is to ignite Jewish passion, and I am proud to say we are doing that.”

View the full list of “Slingshot” winners here.

See related article: The Slingshot Effect