Reflection on Taglit-Birthright Israel

jeanine 1By: Jeanine Tishman
Freshman at Towson University

After an intensive ten days on Taglit-Birthright Israel, I was both sad that it was over and excited to begin my next adventure as a participant in the first Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Birthright Extension. I had been briefed prior to the trip on a major difference between Birthright and the Ashkelon Extension – we would experience Israel beyond a tour bus by getting to know Israelis and the issues impacting Israeli society.

Our first encounter was Shabbat. We were hosted by families in Ashkelon and experienced what Friday night is like in an Israeli home. The hospitality of the families was so warm and welcoming. On Saturday, several of us attended a local masorti (conservative) synagogue in Ashkelon, Netzach Israel. The rabbi at the synagogue was extremely welcoming and helped the group to follow along with services. Other members of the synagogue checked up on us frequently, too!

On our walk back to the hotel we stopped at Baltimore Park. We sat, relaxed and felt the warmth of the sun on our skin! Being at the park really made me feel like I was at home.

After much needed rest, Shabbat finally came to an end. We made havdallah outside of the hotel on the pool deck in a small circle and formed our own special community as participants in this experience.

Sunday and Monday were filled with service-learning and arts and culture experiences that allowed me to connect with Israel in a new way. We volunteered at the Hava Educational Farm, an experiential educational center to teach youth agricultural science, environmental studies, and health. We learned how to make falafel and then enjoyed a delicious lunch. We volunteered at Rambam, a modern orthodox elementary school, which reminded me of my own school from growing up. Since I speak Hebrew fluently, it was easy for me to connect with the kids – at one point, a student asked me for my phone number because she wanted to keep in touch. I was incredibly touched; even though we had only known each other a short time, I felt like I had made a difference in the life of this particular student.

My experience in Ashkelon showed me a different side of Israel, which inspired me to want to come back. I am now looking at opportunities to volunteer in Ashkelon this summer and am excited to remain connected to the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership!

JCC Migdal Celebrates Its Anniversary

migdalOn February 2, the Migdal Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Odessa celebrated its twenty-second birthday! The program, planned by Migdal members, was held in one of Odessa’s concert halls; yet, the family atmosphere of the event made everybody feel warm and cozy. Migdal participants of all ages took part in the performance: babies danced with their parents, little children showed amazing theatrical dances, teenagers made a humorous sketch and parents parodied famous artists. Migdal JCC received notes from around the world; the Counsel of Israel, the Joint director and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore all sent letters of congratulations.

Migdal JCC, the oldest Jewish Community Center in Odessa, pays special attention to creative development. The building itself includes an educational center, early childhood development center, library, art studios, a theatre and a museum. The JCC offers programs such as: Odessa Jewish Theater, chorus and dance school, painting, a school for musicians, preschool program, a club for young families and a youth club.

The Center of Early Childhood Education’s social services program, Mazel Tov, was launched in 2001. Children from the very first months of life and expectant mothers attend. In the program, children receive the opportunity to fully develop and to understand the world around them.

In addition, Beiteinu Day School was created for children in need of any assistance. This not only applies to children from low-income or single-parent families but also to families with children who need psychological help. The program is held with the participation of the Jewish Charity Center, Gmilus Chesed. Employees of Gmilus Chesed worked hard to collect data on both single-parent families in need and families with children in need of psychological support.

Migdal is a great example of a family community center. Once someone enters the center, they never want to leave it! Community members of all ages can find something interesting in Migdal. The Jewish community in Odessa is proud to have Migdal and its leaders.

Alternative Break in Kiryat Gat: Aryeh’s Story

Group shotUniversity of Maryland sophomore Aryeh Kalender from Fairfax, VA, blogged after spending a week in Israel on an Alternative Break trip with Maryland Hillel and Yahel. While there, students worked with the Ethiopian Israeli community to build community centers, gardens and more. Students stayed with Ethiopian host families as part of the experience.

The Day After
I’m sitting around the apartment in Katamon, a neighborhood in Jerusalem. It’s nearly 11:30 in the morning and I’ve only recently woken up. No 6:45 alarm followed by six exuberant and excited children running around the house yelling. No 8:00 a.m. meeting time at a nearby high school. No morning bus rides in a mini bus to a farm on the outskirts of the city. No digging soil, wrapping tires or cement making. No, today is very quiet.

I’m back in the Israel I grew up in. The one that involves much less Hebrew and relaxing wonderful morning’s with amazing grandparents. The one without six children running around literally jumping on top of me. And yet, even though this Israel is the one I am most used to, the aftereffect of 10 days of hard work, and harder reflection can be one of longing. Longing for the hectic atmosphere the engulfed my life for a short period of time. That is the picture of the “other” Israel.

As I reflect on the past 10 days living in the Kiryat Gat among the Ethiopian minority, learning their story and empathizing with the fight they wage every day to become assimilated into Israeli society without losing their heritage, I cannot help but feel as if I’ve just passed through a rainstorm. A million different perspectives were thrown at us from trips near the Gaza strip, to Ethiopian deputy mayors, to our host families. And now suddenly it’s all over. Or at least, it is for now. Because what would these experiences mean if they were just fragments of time. Each experience that I and the rest of our group had translates into a different part of our lives, whether it is a personal transformation, or an outward change that we can bring back to share with the people around us.

I’ve learned a lot from this Hillel trip. The potential for changes is always around us, as in our wonderful world, nothing is ever, or should be perfect. But sitting in front of the computer now, ideas are constantly racing through my mind of how to make a difference and bring about change. I cannot wait to bring what I’ve learned back to the University of Maryland Jewish community.

Transforming One Family


While thousands of miles from home this past winter on the 2013 Associated Family Mission, Diane Orlinsky discovered the incredible warmth and cohesiveness of Baltimore’s Jewish community. Just as important, it reinforced her views that The Associated can be transformative for a family.

Involvement with The Associated

Diane Orlinsky’s involvement began several years ago, when her oldest daughter, Rachel, was accepted into the 15-month Diller Teen Fellows Program. “At that time, Rachel was a student at Roland Park Country School and didn’t have a lot of Jewish friends,” says Diane. “Through Diller, she became more confident about her Jewish self, more cultural and spiritual.”

Through that experience Rachel became more Jewishly-aware. Today, she attends the University of Pennsylvania and has become involved with her campus Hillel, as well as UPenn’s AIPAC organization.

“I think Diller had an indelible impact on her life and changed how she views the world,” Diane says.

Meanwhile, her son is currently participating in The Associated’s Students Taking Action for Change (STAC), which focuses on social justice and advocacy. He has become closer with other Jewish peers at other schools, as a result of volunteering together.

Several years ago, the family traveled to Israel on vacation. When Diane learned about The Associated’s Family Mission, they decided to return; this time joined by her mother and sister’s family from New York.

The week-long mission included visits to historical sites, a training session with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)  a lecture at the Herzl Museum in Jerusalem and a volunteer hand-painted art project in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city, that benefits new immigrants moving to Israel.ars ago, the family traveled to Israel on vacation. When Diane learned about The Associated’s Family Mission, they decided to return; this time joined by her mother and sister’s family from New York.

“This was a more cultural and spiritual adventure,” Diane says, comparing it to her family vacation. “The people on the trip were amazing. We bonded together. It made me realize that Baltimore is such a warm Jewish community and it made me realize I belonged to something bigger than myself.”

Diane expects to return to Israel, and of course, visit Ashkelon to see her new friends. In addition, she would like to become more involved in the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership and she has made a pledge to be a Lion of Judah.

“This trip really affected me in such a positive way. It made me passionate about connecting Israel with the Baltimore Jewish community.”

Metsuda In Odessa

MetsudaMetsuda is an annual training program for Jewish next-generation leaders, coordinated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution (JDC). Thirty-five activists of the Ukrainian Jewish community are accepted to the program each year. The age of the attendants ranges from 18-to-28. During the project, the selected participants partake in trainings on management, leadership, volunteerism, Jewish history and traditions. In addition, each participant offers and completes a community project with the help of the assistant from the team of graduates.

JDC Odessa and Odessa Metsuda coordinators were excited to host the final session of the project. Nineteen participants came not only to present their final projects to the specialists to demonstrate how it was brought to life in their local Jewish community but also to get their certificates. After the three previous sessions, the students of Metsuda 2013 became a strong team. In addition to the enormous inner growth and knowledge on Jewish themes, participants learned serious professional knowledge, particularly through the Kiev International Institute of Management, one of the main partners of Metsuda. The participants learned how to form a systemic vision of business and its development strategy, mechanisms and tools for the effective implementation of the main project objectives.

The students spent one of their days during the program learning about the Odessa Jewish community. JCC Migdal, JCC Beit Grand and Gmilus Hesed organized special activities for the Metsuda members. The whole team spent one of the evenings on the beach, enjoying another aspect of Odessa as well.

This year, the project was attended by nineteen people from Ukraine and Moldova who presented eighteen projects to benefit their local communities. Katherine Shilenkova, a participant from Odessa, graduated with her project, called Party for Charity. The aim of the project is to collect 30,000 grivnas for the shabbaton for thirty children at risk through charity parties.

We wish all participants good luck with a successful implementation of their projects!

Meet Adi and Sherry: Life as an Israeli Campus Fellow in Baltimore

Sherry and Adi

1) Tell us about yourself. (name, age, where are you from, a little background, etc)
A: My name is Adi Snir, and I am 28 years old. I was born and raised in Jerusalem, graduated from social work studies two years ago and started working in the Jewish agency in 2012.

S: My name is Sherry Maya and I am 25 years old. I am from Bat-Yam, a small city by the beach, south of Tel Aviv. After my army service, I went to Tel Aviv University where I studied Jewish Philosophy and History of the Jewish People. I have always been involved with the younger community in Israel, from participating in volunteer programs with children to teaching Jewish Studies in high schools.

2) Why did you choose to become an Israel Campus Fellow in the US?
A: Last year I worked as a sh’licha in the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. I discovered how fascinating Jewish life is abroad with so many different approaches and connections to Israel. I would like my personal experiences and education in Israel to be a source of inspiration which I can share with students and faculty.

S: When I was 21 years old, I worked at an American Jewish Summer camp. It was during that summer that I developed an interest in the American Jewish identity and culture because I found it so different from the Jewish culture I grew up in. My first host family was Orthodox, my second was Conservative and the third identified as Reform. It was very interesting to me that the degrees of observance varied so greatly and I was curious in how individuals decide what constitutes their Jewish identity. I decided to apply to be an Israel Campus Fellow in order to engage with American Jewish students and to further explore their decision process.

3) What expectations did you have?
A: I imagined that working with students would be meaningful and interesting. Now, I realize how impactful our conversations on Israel engagement are.

S: Going into this experience I expected to learn a lot about American culture as well as form many great friendships. Having kept in touch with my host families from the summer camp, I can see that the relationships I build this year will also last for many years.

4) What is your favorite part of working on campus?
A: I like the staff on both campuses as well as being in a university atmosphere. Also, it has been really enjoyable to get to know passionate students and their connections to Judaism. Their motivation to take leadership roles on campus in order to influence others has been great to watch.

S: Unquestionably my favorite part of this experience is working with the students and the unexpected conversations shared with them. I love when a conversation about falafel and Israeli culture ends up turning into a conversation about Jewish Philosophy and God.

5) What is the most challenging part of your job?
A: Time passes by very quickly; the semester was over before we knew it! There are so many more activities you can do with the students, but, as students, they must take care of all of their other responsibilities and extracurricular activities. In addition, Israel can be a controversial subject on campus; it is a challenge both for me and the students to face some unsavory comments while leading an Israel-related event.

S: Initially the most challenging part of this job was just adjusting to life on the other side of the world. Now the challenge is maintaining a good balance between being a staff member of Hillel and a friend to the students. In addition, there is the knowledge that this job is only temporary so I will eventually leave people with whom I have really connected.

6) What do you hope to gain from your experience?
A: Since I have learned so much about Israeli politics and culture, I would like to pass this knowledge along to the students, so that they are more confident when planning Israel-related programming.

S: I feel as though I have already gained so much in the professional sense. I have gotten the chance to hone abilities I didn’t have before. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I am fortunate enough to work in a very supportive atmosphere; my supervisor pushes me to be successful. I genuinely feel cared for as a person and not just as an employee. I hope that these relationships and friendships will continue long after this fellowship ends.

7) What do you hope the students gain?
A: I would like the students to gain knowledge and confidence in their future endeavors.

S: I hope to help the students in the various Israel groups on campus accomplish whatever goals they set. I hope that I can be a go-to person for students, someone they feel comfortable talking to about anything: Israel, Judaism, or just life in general.

8) What is the biggest different between college campuses in Israel and in Baltimore?
A: In Israel, people start college much older – usually after 22 years of age – and often they have military experience. American students are younger and, typically, it is their first experience away from home.

S: Israeli students go to college with more life experience behind them and, consequently, a more firmly developed personality. Because the university culture in America is structured differently, college is the time for American students to explore their interests and develop their opinions. Also, American universities have more campus life, making it not purely a place of study. Because there is so much offered and so much to look forward to upon graduation, American students seem to have lot of hope and willfulness to make a positive impact on the world.

9) What do you like to do during your free time?
A: I like to read, spend time outdoors, hang out with friends, and go to the movies or art galleries.

S: In my free time, I like to explore Baltimore. I love walking around the Inner Harbor, Hampden, Fells Point, as well as traveling to other cities such as Washington D.C. and New York. I enjoy hanging out with my students and doing activities off campus with them, like bowling. There is a great network of Israelis in the area who I enjoy seeing, but I especially love visiting my old host families.

Chanukah in Odessa

chanukah-1By: Marina Moldavanskaya, Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Coordinator

Jewish people all around the world celebrate the bright holiday of Chanukah, and the Odessa Jewish community was no exception.

The first day of Chanukah was marked by a big celebration in Odessa. Crowds gathered in the two synagogues – Chabad and Litvak –  while the traditional Chanukah candles were lit. These synagogues installed a huge hanukkia (menorah) in the heart of the city near the Duke de Richelieu monument, so all the residents of Odessa could be immersed in the holiday.

The JCC Beit Grand, the Jewish home to many people in the community, organized a large number of events for each day of Chanukah: a poetry reading in a romantic and tender atmosphere, maccabia for the youth club, an Arts and Crafts Fair in which local artists sold handmade Judaica, a jazz concert, a theatrical performance and many more. In addition, this year, the JCC Beit Grand celebrated its five year anniversary with a concert, fire show, mulled wine and delicious food.

Every day of this holiday, JCC Migdal held a variety of different events, including the well-attended Chanukah Fantasy performance and film club as well as concerts for kids, featuring a 1-month-old dancer, and adults.

On November 30th, the Third International Festival of Jewish Films, organized by the JCC Migdal, began. Through support from the United States Embassy, Councils of Israel and Germany, professional Jewish films by Israeli, German, Ukrainian, British, French and US directors were screened.

chanukah-3The Israeli Cultural Center in Odessa and Odessa Hillel organized the “Life is a Miracle.” The evening’s exciting program featured the “Light Chanukah” competition, the world’s largest sevivon (dreidel) of people, traditional treats, a music performance and the closing ceremony of the Migdal Film Festival. This gathering was a good example of how the Odessa Jewish community can collaborate in order to reach great results together. Through the efforts of the organizers, hundreds of young Jews were able to spend a wonderful evening in an atmosphere of unity and miracles.

Although Chanukah ended, we always have a possibility to work wonders. The Jewish community of Odessa has already made a miracle of rebirth after times of oppression. The miracle of Chanukah continues to repeat throughout Jewish history, and Odessa is proud to be celebrating in so many exciting ways.

Beth El Women Attend Ethiopian Women’s Cooking Workshop in Ashkelon

Ethiopian Cooking ClassBy: Nancy Gertner

Note: Nancy Gertner traveled to Israel last month with a group of women from her synagogue, Beth El Congregation. She shares her insight from a day spent in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city.

There is little question that a highlight of any trip to Israel is its large and bountiful breakfast. This can be said for our morning meal at the Royal Beach Hotel on the third day of Beth El Women’s recent journey to Israel. Certainly, no one could have boarded our bus feeling hungry. We had a busy morning with a speaker, picked tomatoes in a hot field and then started for Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city, fairly later than scheduled. Once we arrived at our sister community, we were all impressed with the tour, learning about the Baltimore-Ashkelon relationship and how The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore is involved in this third partnership, which has come to be so meaningful to so many Baltimoreans and Israelis because of the true involvement in helping each other and the meaning of the ten-year-long relationship.

The Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership is based on mutual respect – trust, transparency and honesty – as the two communities strive to collaborate on projects that build long-lasting and meaningful friendships as well as a greater love for Israel and the Jewish people. Every year, at least 1,000 people travel from Baltimore to Ashkelon. The Associated is committed to tikkun olam, repairing the world. In 2013, The Associated allocated $7.1 million from their Annual Campaign not only to help meet the needs of the Jewish communities in Israel and around the world but also to keep our local community connected to Israel.

We arrived after 2:00 p.m. at the Ethiopian Cooking Workshop at the Steven Russel Teen Center, where over 20 Ethiopians greeted us warmly with kisses and excitement. Together, we were to prepare lunch, and, by then, everyone was hungry. First, we cut and chopped vegetables, working with strong spices. Since they used paper towels as potholders, we quickly realized that we own better cooking equipment than the Ethiopian women, so we started taking up a collection for their future meal preparation. Potatoes, carrots and other vegetables were peeled and chopped; soon, the whole room was tearful over the onion chopping. We got lunch and green pea soup going, and together we “broke bread” and tasted all the strange foods that the Ethiopians have brought to Israel as immigrants with their own stoves on their heads.

There is so much to learn from a different culture, but we share Judaism as a way of life. This ancient peoplehood has prayed to travel from Africa to our same promised land for so many years and they have suffered so much during this process. Yet, we can be so proud of Operation Moses and Operation Solomon and of our own Associated federation, which has ensured the absorption of this part of Israel, even without real jobs and Hebrew language.

It was quite a lunch; smells filled the room and, personally, I ate a good bit of Ethiopian bread. The experience was one none of us will forget. As we boarded the bus, there were more hugs and kisses, and the women were obviously thrilled by our visit.

We can be so proud of The Associated and the funding it has provided to make this partnership work, and to preserve the Ethiopian culture in its midst. Money given to The Associated supports all of Baltimore’s local agencies, projects in Israel such as this and needs in every country all over the world where there are Jews.

Through The Associated’s Annual Campaign, the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership is able to support many projects, including educational opportunities to vulnerable populations in Ashkelon, such as the Ethiopian immigrants. Last year, The Associated supported the Ethiopian National Project’s Scholastic Assistance program that aims to increase the number of Ethiopian students who successfully pass their matriculation exams as well as to improve their level of achievement in these exams. The Associated also supported PACT in Ashkelon that aims to close the Ethiopians immigrants’ education gap through a range of programs for children up to age six and their parents. Last but not least, The Associated contributed to ‘Completing the Journey,’ a grant which enabled the federation system to bring the final group of Ethiopian immigrants to their Jewish homeland.

There are plenty of opportunities to connect with and provide needed support in Ashkelon. Contact Stephanie Hague at or 410-369-9294 to learn more.


International Moishe Houses Gather In Odessa

Moishe House

By: Marina Moldavanskaya

Last week, Odessa was proud to host the international conference for Russian-speaking Moishe Houses. Yevgeniy Klig, the Director of Russian-speaking Jewish Programming shared, “The conference was comprised of the residents of all Russian-speaking Moishe Houses in the former Soviet Union and the United States. The purpose of the conference was to provide an opportunity for the residents to share experiences of their communities, to learn new skills and information from professional trainers and other Moishe Houses and, of course, to establish deep friendships and relationships that will lead to better relations between young adult Jewish communities in different cities.”

The program included a history of Moishe House as well as a review of goals and objectives. The participants had a chance to get to know the Russian-speaking American Moishe Houses that were successful in engaging young adults from Russian-speaking families in New York and Chicago. The conference aimed to assist Moishe House residents in creating projects, planning volunteer programs, making budgets and attracting visitors.

Odessa Moishe House opened in November 2012 with four residents, yet, it very quickly proved to be a strong community space for young adults. Each month, the residents organize a minimum of seven programs. In addition, the Odessa Moishe House received the award for the Best Moishe House in April 2013, topping 54 other houses.

Odessa Hosts 2013 Limmud Conference

2013 LimmudBy: Marina Moldavanskaya

For the third time, Odessa was proud to host this month’s Limmud Conference. Limmud is a celebration of Jewish education and relationship building through unique lectures, trainings, workshops, discussions, meetings, concerts, discos, night gatherings and more.

This year, the Limmud Conference was dedicated to the connections between Odessa and Tel Aviv as well as the 140th anniversary of Chaim Nahman Bialik. Many families from Odessa moved to Israel and ultimately settled in Tel Aviv; therefore, the city has absorbed Odessa architecture and culture. The first mayor of Tel Aviv was Meir Dizengoff who lived, studied and joined the Zionist movement in Odessa. After Dizengoff became the head of the town planning in 1911, Dizengoff was elected mayor when Tel Aviv was recognized as a city. Chaim Nahman Bialik is a very important model for the Jewish people in Odessa and worldwide. A Jewish poet who wrote both in Hebrew and Yiddish, Bialik was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry and was eventually recognized as Israel’s national poet. Limmud 2013

Four hundred people from the former Soviet Union took part in the conference. The participants had the wonderful opportunity to attend lectures of many outstanding scientists, artists, journalists and politicians from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Belarussia and Israel.

Jewish organizations in Odessa actively participated in the Limmud conference. JCC Migdal was a key partner of the conference as their staff was responsible for the logistics of the program. They coordinated the participants of the southern region and provided many of the speakers. JCC Beit Grand offered the Limmud conference participants many interesting hand-on projects in their studios and organized the Klezmer musical and stand-up comic event, all of which highlighted Odessa’s thriving community and proud Jewish history.