Tag Archives: Israel

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

Orlinsky

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.

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.