Tag Archives: Israel

Todah, Israel. You Surprised Me.

Heart-to-HeartBy: Elizabeth Schuman

Everyone asks me about the Heart to Heart mission to Israel. Was it incredible? Did you visit the Wall? How about Tel Aviv? Did you climb Masada? Wasn’t the food the best you’ve ever tasted?

Well, yes.

Jerusalem and the Wall are breathtaking, with history you can feel, see and touch. Tel Aviv pulses with creative energy. And the food is a locavore’s delight—with fruit (persimmon!), cheeses, fish, breads and vegetables that lovingly illustrate the bounty of our planet.

And then I tell them more.

I tell people that the light is different in Israel. That the colors, sounds and sights are more pronounced, richer and deeper. That it is as if you’ll never see or understand it all, but are utterly compelled to try. That when our tour guide Mikal said to us, “You are standing in history. Welcome home,” it was all that the group needed to hear.

Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, is complex, diverse and magical. The Jewish story rubs elbows with the Christian and Muslim stories. Israelis are fourth-generation citizens and Israelis made aliyah last week. Israel is filled with opinions, ideas and controversy. This is not a one-size-fits-all country.

We learned about homecoming from Ethiopian Jews. Boarding planes for the first time, they carried few possessions on the way to Israel, holding to their Jewish faith as they turned to organizations such as the Ethiopian National Project and the Beit Canada Absorption Center, gentle places designed to ease the transition to Israel.

We met Eli, who was 11 when he left his village and made his way to a refugee camp in the Sudan and eventually to Israel as one of the 14,000 Ethiopian Jews on the planes during Operation Solomon, a 1991 rescue mission. Today, he is a teacher. We met Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, who came here as an orphan, completed school, served in the Army and is now the first Miss Israel of Ethiopian descent.

In Ashkelon, Baltimore’s partner city, we saw how the birth of volunteerism began with a simple idea: involve teenagers. Today, the AMEN volunteer program involves more than 6,000 teenagers across the city. One of the program’s many projects? Wings of Krembo. It’s a social program for children with special needs, led by – you guessed it – some of the dynamic teens in the AMEN program.

We learned about the divide between the ultra-religious and secular and how Israelis are working to bridge their differences through initiatives like Mafteach, which helps Haredi Jews gain skills for the workforce. We met young girls living at Orr Shalom, a residential home for girls taken from their families because of severe abuse or neglect. We saw how kindness, determination and care work their magic to overcome unimaginable beginnings.

We met movers and shakers. Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz sounded like any big city mayor with his concerns about residents, jobs and infrastructure, albeit in a city defined by millennia of cultures and religions. Dana Weiss, a leading Israeli journalist, shared her take on the rough-and-tumble complexities of Israeli politics. We met artists, executives, community leaders and members of the Knesset. We spent time on a kibbutz, seeing how community transformed parched land into farms.

As mothers, we saw our children in the faces of the young Israeli soldiers. By chance, hundreds were assembled outside Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, on the day we visited. Later that week, we visited an army base, hearing soldiers’ stories of grandparents and family who died in concentration camps. The Holocaust is in these soldiers’ DNA. For these soldiers – for this country – never again means just that. Protecting the Jewish homeland pays homage to those who had nowhere else to go more than seventy years ago.

I tell people about saying Shehechayanu as we overlooked Jerusalem, about how we climbed Masada and slathered ourselves with mud as we floated in the Dead Sea. We explored Tel Aviv, meeting innovators and futurists. We walked through the Old City and journeyed through the Four Quarters. We met incredible Israelis devoted to their country and one another. And, yes, we did a little shopping.

Before, I never understood why people return time and again to Israel. I do now.

What we learned is that Israel is far deeper than anything you can envision –a complicated, joyous juxtaposition of faith, family, people, home and geography. Along the way, we discovered that a land a world away is, indeed, our home.

Todah. Thank you, Israel.

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!

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.”

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.