Tag Archives: Israel

A Piece Of Peace?

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned from his Middle East trip last week with an optimistic message following his latest attempt to foster progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the presentation of a security proposal to both sides, Israelis and Palestinians aren’t sharing his positive outlook.

From Dec. 4 to 6, Kerry was accompanied in Jerusalem and Ramallah by retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Allen presented Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with what Kerry and the State Department have carefully described as only “some thoughts” on the resolution of security issues that have been obstructing progress in negotiations.

“President Obama and I are absolutely committed to reaching a final status agreement that recognizes two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in peace and security,” Kerry said Dec. 7 in his keynote address to the 10th annual Saban Forum, sponsored by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Joining the secretary at the forum were major players such as President Barack Obama and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; Netanyahu spoke via webcast.

“Peace is possible today because we have courageous leaders who have already taken significant political risks for peace — and the time is approaching when they will have to take even more,” Kerry said.

The exact contents of Gen. Allen’s proposal—compiled after months of conversations at the helm of a core group of security advisers and security officials on both sides — remain confidential. From the start, Kerry made certain that a strict gag order was placed on the negotiations, declaring that he will act as the sole source of information on the talks. The State Department insists this level of secrecy is necessary to facilitate frank discussion and is one of the hard-learned lessons from past failures on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

But Elliott Abrams, former top National Security Council official and currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the JT, “I don’t know any Israelis or Palestinians who share Secretary Kerry’s optimism.”

“The most recent Israeli polls show that very few Israelis think he will succeed in getting a final status agreement, and I don’t think so either,” Abrams said, referring to a recent poll compiled by New Wave Research for Israel Hayom. The poll showed 87.5 percent of Israeli Jews do not believe the new talks would lead to peace.

Israeli and Palestinian officials also sound pessimistic. Top Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo told AFP that Kerry’s security proposals “will drive Kerry’s efforts to an impasse and to total failure.” Netanyahu said at a Likud party meeting on Monday, “We are not standing before a permanent accord. We have a set of specific terms that have yet to be met in the negotiations. … We are still not there, not even walking down that hall.”

“The two sides are too far apart,” Abrams told the JT.

Though Abrams commended Kerry for striving to achieve peace, he questioned the resources the secretary of state is putting into the process.

“Is he really spending his own precious time well, pursuing an agreement that no one thinks he’ll get — and he won’t get — when so many world crises exist?” Abrams asked.

Kerry and the State Department insist this round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is different from past U.S. efforts, even though most of the negotiators — led by former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk — have unsuccessfully negotiated in the region before.

“Both sides have shown a recent willingness to make some very difficult decisions in the face of domestic political opposition,” a State Department official said, “with Prime Minister Netanyahu agreeing to release Palestinian prisoners and President Abbas agreeing not to try to upgrade Palestinian status at international organizations for the duration of the talks.”

Amid the State Department’s optimism, The Times of Israel reports that Palestinian officials are saying Kerry used his trip as an ultimatum to force them to agree to his security demands, threatening to have Israel delay further phases of the release of Palestinian terrorist prisoners until the Palestinian Authority agrees to framework agreements.

Though not without some reservations on the current negotiations’ chances for success, Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Saban Center, told the JT that the political situation in the Middle East has changed to where there may be more incentive for Israeli and Palestinian officials to come to an agreement.

“We’ve seen the Arab awakening—changes in Egypt, tragic changes in Syria that have turned into a terrible civil war, and fear that there may be instability elsewhere as well,” Sachs said.

“This of course is a cause for concern for the Israelis considering the advance of jihadi groups near Israel, in the Sinai Peninsula and in Syria particularly, if they win,” he said.

Sachs said changes in Israeli politics might also help the talks. He explained that unlike previous pushes, when centrist Israeli prime ministers like Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak oversaw negotiations but could not convince Israel’s right-wing parties to support their efforts, the current Netanyahu government’s more hawkish stance could spell real solutions without appearing to compromise the security of the Israeli people.

Sachs believes the contents are intended to appease Israel’s security concerns in a way that would not infringe on demands for the sovereignty of the proposed future Palestinian state.

A major sticking point for negotiations has been security in the Jordan River Valley and at a series of Jordan River border crossings. The Jordan River Valley runs from Israel’s northern border with Syria south into the Dead Sea. A large part of it makes up the border between the West Bank and Jordan.

Negotiators hope to find a security solution to appease Israel’s need to deploy troops along the valley in what is known as the “Eastern Front,” to prevent potential military threats from neighbors to the east. The Jordan River crossings, currently controlled by the Israel Defense Forces, are major points of entry into the West Bank and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Israeli security officials fear that these crossings could become routes for weapons and terrorists into the region if Israel relinquished control. But Palestinians insist on securing the ability to have sole control over their borders in a future state, including control over who comes in and out of their territory. According to Sachs, both sides have presented what he terms as “non-starter” demands for a final-status agreement.

Kerry’s proposal outlines for the Jordan River crossings to be jointly administered by the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, while maintaining the IDF’s right to deploy troops in case of a potential threat, The Times of Israel reports. PA officials reportedly rejected that proposal, refusing to allow for any IDF presence along the border.

Other demands from the Palestinians include that negotiations be based on 1967 borders, with land swaps of equal size and value, right of return for an agreed-upon number of Palestinian refugees and a division of Jerusalem to include East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

“The main sticking point remains the exact contours of the agreement in Jerusalem, and those the parties have never actually agreed upon. They’ve come closer in the past, but they’ve never agreed,” Sachs said.

At the Saban Forum, Kerry reaffirmed his support for Israel and its security needs. But Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, said Kerry’s latest Mideast visit was a “charm offensive” to repair what Pollak sees as strained U.S.-Israel relations stemming from the interim nuclear deal that was recently reached between Iran and world powers. Netanyahu told the Saban Forum on Dec. 8 that the U.S. should not back down from imposing new sanctions on Iran, despite ongoing negotiations.

On Israeli-Palestinian talks, Kerry maintains they are expected to reach a resolution by April 2014, the nine-month deadline established when negotiations began last July. The secretary of state is revisiting Jerusalem and Ramallah from Dec. 11 to 18, his ninth trip to the region since assuming office.

With Security Plan Pitched, U.S. Optimism On Peace Talks Not Shared By Israelis And Palestinians

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned from his Middle East trip last week with an optimistic message, following his latest attempt to foster progress in Israel-Palestinian peace talks and the presentation of a security proposal to both sides, Israelis and Palestinians aren’t sharing his positive outlook.

From Dec. 4 to 6, Kerry accompanied in Jerusalem and Ramallah by retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Allen presented Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with what Kerry and the State Department have carefully described as only “some thoughts” on the resolution of security issues that have been obstructing progress in negotiations.

“President Obama and I are absolutely committed to reaching a final status agreement that recognizes two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in peace and security,” Kerry said Dec. 7 in his keynote address to the Tenth Annual Saban Forum, sponsored by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Joining the secretary of state at the forum were major players such as President Barack Obama and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, while Netanyahu spoke via webcast.

“Peace is possible today because we have courageous leaders who have already taken significant political risks for peace—and the time is approaching when they will have to take even more,” Kerry said.

The exact contents of Gen. Allen’s proposal—compiled after months of conversations at the helm of a core group of security advisers and security officials on both sides—remain confidential. From the start, Kerry made certain that a strict gag order was placed on the negotiations, declaring that he will act as the sole source of information on the talks. The State Department insists that this level of secrecy is necessary to facilitate frank discussion and is one of the hard-learned lessons from past failures on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

But Elliott Abrams, former top National Security Council official and currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Baltimore Jewish Times, “I don’t know any Israelis or Palestinians who share Secretary Kerry’s optimism or can understand its basis.”

“The most recent Israeli polls show that very few Israelis think he will succeed in getting a final status agreement, and I don’t think so either,” Abrams said, referring to a recent poll compiled by New Wave Research for Israel Hayom. The poll showed 87.5 percent of Israeli Jews saying that they did not believe the new talks would lead to peace.

Israeli and Palestinian officials are also sounding pessimistic notes on negotiations. Top Palestinian Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo told AFP that Kerry’s security proposals “will drive Kerry’s efforts to an impasse and to total failure.” Netanyahu said at a Likud party meeting on Monday, “We are not standing before a permanent accord. We have a set of specific terms that have yet to be met in the negotiations. … We are still not there, not even walking down that hall.”

“The two sides are too far apart,” Abrams told JT.

Though Abrams commended Kerry for striving to achieve peace, he questioned the resources the secretary of state is putting into the process.

“Is he really spending his own precious time well, pursuing an agreement that no one thinks he’ll get—and he won’t get—when so many world crises exist?” Abrams said.

Kerry and the State Department insist this round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is different from past U.S. efforts, even though most of the negotiators—led by former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk—have unsuccessfully negotiated in the region before.

“Both sides have shown a recent willingness to make some very difficult decisions in the face of domestic political opposition,” a State Department official said, “with Prime Minister Netanyahu agreeing to release Palestinian prisoners and President Abbas agreeing not to try to upgrade Palestinian status at international organizations for the duration of the talks.”

Amid the State Department’s optimism, The Times of Israel reports that Palestinian officials are saying Kerry used his trip as an ultimatum to force them to agree to his security demands, threatening to have Israel delay further phases of the release of Palestinian terrorist prisoners until the Palestinian Authority agrees to framework agreements.

Though not without some reservations on the current negotiations’ chances for success, Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Saban Center, told JT that the political situation in the Middle East has changed to where there may be more incentive for Israeli and Palestinian officials to come to an agreement.

“We’ve seen the Arab awakening—changes in Egypt, tragic changes in Syria that have turned into a terrible civil war, and fear that there may be instability elsewhere as well,” Sachs said.

“This of course is a cause for concern for the Israelis considering the advance of jihadi groups near Israel, in the Sinai Peninsula and in Syria, particularly if they win,” he said.

Sachs said that changes in Israeli politics might also help the talks. He explained that unlike previous pushes for a peace deal, when centrist Israeli prime ministers like Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak oversaw negotiations but could not convince Israel’s right-wing parties to support their efforts, the current Netanyahu government’s more hawkish stance could spell real solutions without appearing to compromise the security of the Israeli people.

Although not privy to Allen’s proposal, Sachs believes the contents are intended to appease Israel’s security concerns in a way that would not infringe on demands for the sovereignty of the proposed future Palestinian state.

A major sticking point for negotiations has been security in the Jordan River Valley and a series of Jordan River border crossings. The Jordan River Valley runs from Israel’s northern border with Syria, south into the Dead Sea. A large part of it makes up the border between the West Bank and Jordan.

Negotiators hope to find a security solution to appease Israel’s need to deploy troops along the valley in what is known as the “Eastern Front,” to prevent potential military threats from neighbors to the east. The Jordan River crossings, currently controlled by the Israel Defense Forces, are major points of entry into the West Bank and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Israeli security officials fear that these crossings could become routes for weapons and terrorists into the region, if Israel relinquished control. But Palestinians insist on securing the ability to have sole control over their borders in a future state, including control over who comes in and out of their territory. According to Sachs, both sides have presented what he terms as “non-starter” demands for a final-status agreement.

Kerry’s proposal outlines for the Jordan River crossings to be jointly administered by the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, while maintaining the IDF’s right to deploy troops in case of a potential threat, The Times of Israel reports. PA officials reportedly rejected that proposal, refusing to allow for any IDF presence along the border.

Other demands from the Palestinians include that negotiations be based on 1967 borders, with land swaps of equal size and value; right of return for an agreed-upon number of Palestinian refugees; and a division of Jerusalem to include East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

“The main sticking point remains the exact contours of the agreement in Jerusalem, and those the parties have never actually agreed upon. They’ve come closer in the past, but they’ve never agreed,” Sachs said.

At the Saban Forum, Kerry reaffirmed his support for Israel and its security needs. But Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, told JT that Kerry’s latest Mideast visit was a “charm offensive” to repair what Pollak sees as strained U.S.-Israel relations stemming from the interim nuclear deal that was recently reached between Iran and world powers. Netanyahu told the Saban Forum Dec. 8 that the U.S. should not back down from imposing new sanctions on Iran, despite ongoing negotiations.

On Israeli-Palestinian talks, Kerry maintains they are expected to reach a resolution by April 2014, the nine-month deadline established when negotiations began last July. The secretary of state is revisiting Jerusalem and Ramallah from Dec. 11-18, his ninth trip to the region since assuming office.

Dmitriy Shapiro is an area freelance writer.

BREAKING: Israel, Jordan and PA Sign Historic Red Sea-Dead Sea Pipeline Agreement

Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, on Monday afternoon, December 9 in Washington DC, at the headquarters of the World Bank, signed an agreement on laying a water pipeline to link the Red Sea with the Dead Sea. The pipeline, which will take three years to complete, will help slow the drying up of the Dead Sea with the inflow of water from the Red Sea. It will also provide the region with millions of cubic meters of drinking water.

Regional Cooperation, and National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom signed for Israel. Water and Irrigation Minister Hazem Al Nasser signed for Jordan. Water Authority Minister Dr. Shaddad Attili signed for the Palestinian Authority.

The pipeline will be 180 kilometers long and will pass through Jordanian territory, channeling 100 million cubic meters of water per annum northward from the Red Sea. The estimated cost for the project is approximately $300-400 million, as communicated by the Israel Ministry of Regional Cooperation. While the World Bank will support the project with a cash injection, millions of dollars will be raised from donor countries and philanthropic sources.

Approximately, 80 million cubic meters will be desalinated at a facility to be built in Aqaba, Jordan on the Red Sea which will produce about 100 million cubic meters of drinking water. The Arava region and Eilat will receive 30-50 million cubic meters of water, while Jordan will receive 30 million cubic meters of water for use in its southern regions. In addition, Israel will sell Jordan another 50 million cubic meters of water from the Kinneret for use in the north. The project will cover Jordan’s need for drinking water for about a decade. About 30 million cubic meters of water from the Kinneret will be pumped for the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria.

“This is a historic agreement that realizes a dream of many years and the dream of Herzl. The agreement is of the highest diplomatic, economic, environmental and strategic importance,” said the Minister of Regional Cooperation and Infrastructure, Silvan Shalom. “I am pleased that an investment of years has reached its hoped-for conclusion and will benefit Israel and the residents of the region as a whole,” he added.

Jordanian Water Minister Hazem Nasser spoke about the humanitarian aspects of the project: “This is an agreement with a humanitarian aspect, designed to aid those who need water. There is an ecological aspect as well since we are trying to save the Dead Sea.”

The head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Shaddad Attili stressed that in spite of the conflict, “the agreement is unrelated to the Oslo Accords. The beauty is that this is a regional deal and it is important to everyone to save the Dead Sea. Despite political issues and the conflict, we proved that we can all work together.”

Environmentalists are not happy with the decision, with many highly concerned about the environmental consequences. Some are warning that mixing Red Sea and Dead Sea waters could upset the unique chemistry of the Dead Sea and the ecosystem, while discoloring the Dead Sea’s famous blue waters. Other concerns highlight damage to coral reefs in the Red Sea as well as contamination to the underground water of Israel’s Arava desert.

 Anav Silverman writes for Tazpit News Agency.

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Magic in Morocco

Shared values. Mutual trust. Common interests. Strong friendship.

These were some of the phrases President Barack Obama used late last month following a meeting with King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

The two countries share a historic relationship; one that began in the 18th century and continues to thrive.

Moroccan Ambassador-at-Large Serge Berdugo says the Jews of Morocco are small in number, but strong.

Moroccan Ambassador-at-Large Serge Berdugo says the Jews of Morocco are small in number, but strong.

What is more fascinating than the strong relations between this predominantly Muslim country and the U.S. is the peaceful relations Morocco enjoys with the State of Israel. And, while the Jewish population in Morocco is small (only about 4,000 people), it is strong and thriving, at least according to Ambassador-at-Large Serge Berdugo, president of the Jewish Community of Morocco and former Minister of Tourism, who accompanied the king on his visit to the States.

In a meeting with the Baltimore Jewish Times, Berdugo reaffirmed the country’s strong ties with the United States — “we cooperate, politically, against terrorists, we collaborate in all areas where peace is in danger” — but also waxed optimistic and confident about the state of the Jewish people in Morocco. He said the Jews of Morocco have been living there for more than 2,000 years. At one time, the population was much larger, but a series of incidents and emigration reduced that number by thousands.

What didn’t happen, however, was that Morocco (like many other Muslim states) kicked out its Jews with the founding of the State of Israel.

“The Muslims here let the Jews live their way,” said Berdugo.

However, many Jews did leave in 1948. This, said Berdugo, was because they wanted to fulfil the Zionist dream.

“That is the phase we can call Messianic,” he said.

Moroccan Secretary General  Dr. Ahmed Abbadi notes that  Morocco was never enraptured  by the dogmatism of Damascus.

Moroccan Secretary General
Dr. Ahmed Abbadi notes that
Morocco was never enraptured
by the dogmatism of Damascus.

Another wave left Morocco in 1953 when King Mohammed V was exiled; the Jews feared there would be persecution. In 1956, when Muslim rule returned and the remaining Jews were used to French culture, a number again left. But the greatest number fled the country in 1961, after the first conference of the Arab League in Casablanca. At that meeting, explained Berdugo, Morocco opted to adopt the resolutions of the league and this meant (at the time) no communication with the State of Israel.

“It meant Jews in Morocco could not talk to their family in Israel,” he explained.

Half of the Jews went to Israel then. The other half to Canada. He said Montreal got thousands of Moroccan Jews.

But even as the population shrank, the people remained stable.

“In Morocco, the king sees it as an obligation to protect the Jews,” Berdugo said.

This obligation comes from the way the country interprets Islam. In that same meeting, Dr. Ahmed Abbadi, secretary general of a council of religious scholars established by the king, who works closely with Ambassador Berdugo on issues of religious tolerance, diversity and interfaith cooperation, explained that Morocco never adopted “the values of Damascus,” but rather maintained a belief in Sufi Islam, an Islamic philosophy that values peace, “rejoicing and happiness.”

Abbadi said he believes one of the reasons for this is because Morocco was separated from the rest of the world by “three great series of mountains and this protected us from interactions with other countries.” Because the values of self-rule, democracy and tolerance have, over the years, become so ingrained in Moroccan culture, he said, as extremists try to infiltrate — and they have — they receive little following.

Abbadi said Morocco is not prey to dogma, but common sense.

This is likely the reason Morocco is a trailblazer in Muslim-Israeli relations, one of the only connectors between Israel and the Arab world. The two countries cooperate in areas of mutual benefit, including technology and defense.

Also, Morocco serves as a voice of reason in regard to the peace process. Berdugo said Morocco (and Moroccan Jews) would like to see a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, but that the country will not assist at the table until it feels both parties are ready to move forward.

“We are not trying to waste our time in discussion,” he said. “If you want to talk together and do something, we are there. If you don’t want to, we are not there.”

Berdugo said Morocco has always been “a player of good will, trying to do our best to promote peace and two states with security and dignity — security for one, dignity for the other.”

In recent months, the King of Morocco has taken additional steps to safeguard the country’s Jewish history. For example, a cemetery restoration project has restored and beautified 167 cemeteries, 48 retaining walls, 200,000 square meters of pavement and some 12,000 tombs across the country.

Similarly, the King has been instrumental in preserving synagogues and schools. Berdugo noted that there are 15 synagogues in Morocco.

“If you go out at 7 a.m., you can see the Jews going to synagogue. No one takes a look at them; they are part of the context,” he said.

Additionally, there are five Jewish schools, some of which have as much as a 25 percent Muslim student population. There, the Jews learn Arabic and Hebrew, and the Muslim students do, too.

“It is not a matter of quantity, it is a matter of quality,” said Berdugo of the Jewish population.

The message both Berdugo and Abbadi said they wanted to make clear is that while in the States people tend to view Morocco as just a part of the Middle East, it does not view itself in the same light as nations like Syria, Lebanon, etc. Rather, said Abbadi, “We are more Occidental than Middle East … and we want to be recognized like that.”

What is Sufi Islam?
Sufism is Islamic mysticism. Non-Muslims often mistake Sufism as a sect of Islam. It is more accurately described as an aspect or dimension of Islam. Sufi orders can be found in Sunni, Shia and other Islamic groups. Sufism is a series of concepts and practices that range from poverty, seclusion, deception, depriving the soul, singing and dancing.

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

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‘These Are God’s Kids, Too’

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Rabbi Moshe Zeivald, shown here in the Kfar Zoharim greenhouse, says the village offers young men “a healthy alternative so they don’t end up again on the street.”
(Maayan Jaffe)

They are hiding in the darkness of midnight on Jerusalem’s streets. They are in the clubs, on the corners, smoking weed, drinking alcohol. Lost.

Once upright, observant boys from good families. Lost.

That is, until Rabbi Moshe Zeivald finds them and brings them to Kfar Zoharim in central Israel. The kfar (“village” in English) is just several miles from Washington, D.C.’s sister city of Beit Shemesh. Less than three years ago, this village was nothing but a dream for Rabbi Zeivald. A-year-and-a-half ago, it became a reality.

Rabbi Zeivald was working for the outreach organization P’eylim/Lev L’achim, helping to bring secular Jews back to a Torah lifestyle, when he discovered that in his own community, in the Haredi community, there were thousands of young men who themselves were struggling, were searching.

“The Haredi world is built on young men who learn in yeshiva,” Rabbi Zeivald explained. “If you are not in yeshiva, you are no one. There is nowhere for you to go. And this causes tension in the home. For the parents, all their hopes for [this child] are killed.”

Most Haredi families, he said, are embarrassed by a child who cannot learn. They cut him off. And when he is cut off from his family, he is cut off from this community; in shul, no one will let their children sit with him — he might be a bad influence.

“No yeshiva. No home. No community. You are on the streets,” said Rabbi Zeivald.

When the rabbi approached his supervisors, they said, “You are dreaming.” But Rabbi Zeivald believed, like Theodore Herzl, that if he willed it, it would become a reality. So he approached more rabbinic leaders. Finally Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman of the organization Migdal Ohr listened. He charged Rabbi Zeivald to prove to him that this problem was as acute as Rabbi Zeivald described. Overnight, Rabbi Zeivald recruited and brought a busload of young men — good kids who hadn’t smiled in months (some, years) — to Rabbi Grossman. These were boys from frum families who were now promiscuous and who were starving — both literally and for love.

“He didn’t believe me,” recalled Rabbi Zeivald, smiling to himself. “He interviewed each one of them.”

By the end of the day, Rabbi Grossman was committed to the idea of Kfar Zoharim. Just over one year later, the village was born.

“The parents sit shiva for these kids. We give them life,” said Rabbi Zeivald.

On a November afternoon, Kfar Zoharim is beautiful. A blue skyline tops the newly built cabins, a stable, a greenhouse, a wood shop and, of course, classrooms so the boys can study for their matriculation exams, go to the army, get into college and lead successful lives. If they return to a traditional Torah lifestyle, “Wow!” said Rabbi Zeivald, that’s icing on the cake. He is not out to put the boys back in yeshiva; his goal, he said, is to give the 80 boys who now live in Kfar Zoharim “a healthy alternative so they don’t end up again on the street. Most of all, it is about giving them love. Without love, you can’t [impact any kid].”

But it is not a free-for-all. The boys work hard. At Kfar Zoharim, the residents take command of their environment. If they want a walking path between their rooms and their classroom, they make it with their own hands, learning basic construction skills, how to lay concrete and position stones and tiles. They engage in charity work, trained by Jewish National Fund to build benches and picnic tables that are donated to JNF forests. They are offered music classes and science classes so they can discover what they are good at and share their talents with their peers and, ultimately, with the State of Israel.

While the boys are building their community, the counselors and other staff are rebuilding the boys. A staff psychologist is available 24/7, said Rabbi Zeivald; the boys cannot be alone with their own thoughts. Live-in “moms” and “dads” model a healthy family structure, and even the teachers are trained in differentiated instruction to ensure that no child is left behind.

At the same time, Rabbi Zeivald is in constant dialogue with the parents, working with them to accept their sons for who they are and coaching them to open their arms. Rabbi Zeivald said it may seem obvious that parents should unconditionally love and accept their sons, yet he does not blame the parents. He said their reaction is simply a result of societal pressure. He has seen some success on this front, too.

“You need a lot of strength to work with these boys,” he said.

Why do the boys agree to come? They are hungry. Rabbi Zeivald feeds them — literally. Then he offers them food for thought, the idea of a chance to reclaim their lives. And he is honest; he was there once, too. At 14, Rabbi Zeivald was on the street. He had to fight for himself, to reclaim his life. He wants to cushion the path for these children, all between the ages of 14 and 18.

Rabbi Asher Yechiel Castle is one of the campus mentors. Like Rabbi Zeivald, he too took a hard road to get where he is today. He said, “I was where they are. I understand. I met nice people along the way who knew I wasn’t a bad kid, that I had a future. I am that person for these kids.”

Teacher Haggai Avikar speaks similarly. He said he could be a teacher who comes, gives over his Israeli history lesson and leaves, but he doesn’t do that. He builds relationships with his students.

“God loves this place so much,” said Rabbi Zeivald. “These are His kids, too.”

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

What Is Migdal Ohr? >>