Tag Archives: Israel

Happy Hour

By Jill Max, Chair, The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center

Jill Max 3Last night, I walked to the beautiful Tel Aviv port (don’t worry, there are plenty of places along the way to duck and cover) and had dinner with two Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) staff members and four young adults from Baltimore who are participating in the Onward Israel program that The Associated subsidizes. The eight-week program matches college-age students with internships in Tel Aviv (and many other cities) that suit their educational or career-related pursuits. I knew half of the group, and I knew that all of them had anxious parents at home who were eager for reassurance that their kids were all right. Each one had a different level of comfort with the situation, but I was so impressed with their maturity and their ability to see this as a unique opportunity for growth. One young man shared his newfound culinary skills, while one of the girls was proud of her ability to take the bus by herself to her internship. They all spoke candidly of the challenges of being here at this time, but none of them was considering leaving. Sadly, a few of the participants did decide to go home, and of course I support that decision. This is not an easy situation to deal with on a daily basis, particularly without your family around.

This morning I had the opportunity to make two site visits with the director of the program and the internship coordinator. Both of the interns we visited expressed how much they were learning and how beneficial they felt their experience was for them. Their supervisors clearly valued their work and were very enthusiastic about their contributions. I couldn’t stop thinking about how different these experiences were than most of the one’s I’ve heard about at home. These interns were really part of the team, and felt valued. It was a great way to start the day!

I spent a few hours this afternoon with a dear friend who lives in Tel Aviv. Abraham Silver is one of the most interesting people I know, as well as brilliant. Abraham made Aliyah in the early 80s, a pioneer from Brooklyn who became a date farmer in the Negev. That, however, is not where his story ends. Abraham served in the Israeli army and reserves as an elite paratrooper, he is an historian, and is arguably the best tour guide I’ve ever known. Oh, and by the way, he got an MA in Architecture about a decade ago, commuting between Tel Aviv and the University of Pennsylvania. I first met him when our family traveled to Israel on the Associated’s Family Mission in 2007. Since then, every time I come to this land, I make sure to see Abraham. He is my touchstone to what is really happening here, my guide to a uniquely Israeli perspective on the situation, and aside from all of that, a wonderful father and adoring husband. I should also mention that his wife, Alisa, is a world-renowned brain researcher and was recently named Teacher of the Year by Tel Aviv University. Unfortunately, Abraham and his seven-year-old twins, Shiri and Libby were unable to attend the ceremony, due to the red alert.

It was 5:20 in Tel Aviv, officially Happy Hour, and I’d returned to the pool to relax and do some reading before my mission officially began this evening. The wi-fi was spotty, so I had trouble connecting to both my email and Facebook, but I was feeling content, enjoying my glass of wine and people watching by the pool. I had just begun to return an email, and as I was typing, the sirens started blaring. Several people around me were blissfully sleeping, and I moved efficiently from one to the next repeating, “sirens, sirens, get up, get up” (Note to self: I am a pretty cool cucumber in an emergency). The lifeguard quickly directed us to the stairwell, and we made our way down three floors. Once again, I had the opportunity to meet new people and to hear everyone’s stories about their experiences with the sirens thus far. After about 10 minutes, I was back in my chair (I took the wine with me) and enjoying the breathtaking view as the sun began its daily descent. The lifeguard confirmed that the Iron Dome intercepted two missiles over Tel Aviv. “Don’t worry, please enjoy your vacation: the Iron Dome has got us covered,” he assured me.

I’m sleeping with my balcony door open tonight, as I did last night. There’s a beautiful breeze and I find the sound of the waves soothing. And yes, it is easier to hear the sirens.

 Jill is currently in Israel on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaigner’s Mission. 

URGENT

By Jill Max, Co-chair, The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center

Tuli, my driver, greeted me with his handwritten sign and immediately launched into what I can only assume is his typical Jill maxcomedy routine. We walked to the van and he asked me if I spoke Hebrew. “I used to, but it’s been quite a long time,” I told him. “But this year, I am committed to learning again.” We exchanged elementary Hebrew phrases, he complemented my accent, and then I asked him how it had been all day. “More of the same,” he said, “but at least there’s less traffic in Tel Aviv!”

As we sped down the freeway, I sat terrified in the seat behind him, less afraid of missiles and sirens than his typically Israeli “driving while multitasking!” To my relief, he decided to put on some music, rather than watching the TV, and immediately started singing along to Foreigner’s Urgent. At this point there was nothing to do but smile nostalgically and join him. Classic 80s rock reminds me of high school, and my first trip to Israel with NFTY. I spent six weeks exploring this glorious country. It was the beginning of a long and complicated love affair.

When we arrived in the business district, I asked Tuli, “So what do we do if the sirens go off while we’re driving?” He explained that it had happened last night on his way to the airport with two couples. Everyone simply pulls over, their cars are left in the middle of the street and they walk in the nearest building’s shelter. Every shelter stays open now.

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Jill and a few Baltimore participants of Onward Israel.

And then I heard it: a boom, followed by a second boom, and then a siren. Tuli pulled over, and we walked up to the closest building and into the shelter with several other Israelis. Everyone was on his or her cell phone, watching closely and waiting for the all-clear. We were all very calm, even joking and exchanging tips on the best incoming missile alert apps (I have red alert on my phone). In less than five minutes, we were back in the van. “How’d I do?’ I asked. “You’re a natural,” Tuli smiled.

When we arrived at my hotel, which sits directly on the Mediterranean Sea, I noticed all of the people in the water and playing Kadima on the beach. The Iron Dome intercepts, and we go back to singing Feels Like the First Time. I got out of the car and thanked Tuli. He went to shake my hand, and I said, “I think we need to hug this one out.” As he left, Tuli gave me a big grin and said, “Enjoy!”

I plan to take his advice.

Jill Max is currently in Israel for the Jewish Federation of North America’s Campaigners Mission. 

Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut: A Split-Second of Culture

 

 By Marisa Obuchowski

Marisa

Two years ago I embarked on a journey, a masa, to Israel for five months to live, explore and intern in Tel Aviv. I loved the time that I spent abroad learning the culture, engaging with the land and the people and connecting more deeply with my heritage. While in Israel, I adapted to my surroundings by learning the bus routes, finding hidden gems at the market and becoming slightly more aggressive (let’s call it passionate). During the process, I celebrated new traditions and holidays, but none more awe-inspiring than the start of Yom Ha’atzmaut on the heels of Yom Ha’zikaron. This moment was particularly poignant, because in Israel, Independence Day is immediately preceded by Memorial Day.

862923_10100782504681367_1926112263_nGrowing up in the U.S., I equated Memorial Day with the kickoff of summer—a three-day weekend when outdoor pools opened, barbecues ignited and families took trips to the beach. In Israel however, Yom Ha’zikaron was a somber day of reflection, remembrance, and reverence. The cadence of the day was slower; bustling cities became lethargic and cemeteries were flooded with families, friends and fellow soldiers remembering their loved ones. It’s almost as if a dark cloud settled over the entire state. But there was a silver lining.

As daylight dissipated, a frenetic energy picked up as the pulse of the city returned stronger than ever. In Tel Aviv, my friends and I followed the masses to Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square), unsure of what was in store. On stage, there was a large projection screen streaming the closing service of Yom Ha’zikaron in Jerusalem, though the atmosphere reminded me of the New Year’s Eve countdown in Times Square. People of all ages waited in anticipation for the ceremony to finish, when finally, in a split-second, daybreak occurred giving way to Yom Ha’atzmaut. Fireworks went off, music started to play and everyone broke out in song and dance. It was a bizarre yet incredible transition from one day to the next; a perfect moment of yin and yang, if you will, reminding us that without sorrow there is no joy, and vice versa.

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Walking home we were enveloped by the festive chaos, sprayed with shaving cream from head-to-toe, donning Israeli flags and glow sticks…and that was just the beginning. The celebrations continued throughout the night, in the streets, bars and restaurants all over town. To give some perspective, my friends and I were out until nearly 7:30 in the morning, at which point we bought sushi, ate on our rooftop deck and finally went to sleep.

It was one of the wildest, most exhilarating, nights I can ever remember. In a way Yom Ha’atzmaut epitomized the Israeli culture and people I had grown to adore— kind of crazy, loud, unforgiving, amazing and lovable in spite of the hardship and adversity they have endured.

Marisa interned with Masa Israel Journey from March-August 2012. She currently resides in Federal Hill.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is on Tuesday, May 6. To learn more about Israel experience programs, visit associated.org/experienceisrael. Visit baltimoreisraelcoalition.org to view a list of Yom Ha’atzmaut events taking place in the community. 

 

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!