The cupcake seen around the world

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A teen birthday guest drew a swastika on a cupcake at her 14-year-old friend’s birthday party. Photo courtesy of the mom’s Facebook page

On the morning after her 14-year-old  daughter’s birthday sleepover, one Valley woman received a text containing a photo of a cupcake decorated with a swastika.

The photo came from the mother of one her daughter’s guests, who said her daughter felt uncomfortable  the night before when one of the other teens drew the symbol during a cupcake-decorating session. “Imagine my surprise,” said the Valley woman, who has requested that her name not be used. Upon further investigation, she found that two of the girls posted the cupcake photo on Snapchat, along with snarky comments.

“A few of the girls expressed discomfort and offense at the decoration,” the mom told Jewish News via email. “My daughter told the girls she was offended and walked out of the room … Nobody thought it was funny. Another guest decided to smear the cupcake frosting and toss it in the trash. When I came downstairs, I saw several cupcakes decorated with sprinkles and chocolate, but I never saw the swastika one. The girls self-regulated their own party because after the incident, they spent the next few hours doing karaoke, opening presents and just chilling with each other.”

After the party, the birthday girl’s mom posted the cupcake  photo on her Facebook page, with a brief explanation about what happened. By the next day, the cupcake made news around the world.

“I was absolutely surprised by the response to my Facebook post,” said the Valley woman, who works in public relations. “Not at the overwhelming reaction to a swastika on a cupcake – which is just not OK in any situation – but the vitriol at a certain political party. As I stated in my original Facebook post, this was not a political position, but more a statement about the environment we now seem to be living in, where racist, anti-Semitic, and mysoginistic acts or words are being allowed to fly with no huge reaction. Intolerance cannot be normalized regardless of who is in office — the human race will exist long past any one president’s term or terms of office, so let’s not lose our humanity. People still need to be kind and respectful to one another, regardless of color, religion, sex or political position.”

Not only did her Facebook post make international news, but similar to the childhood game of “Telephone,” inaccurate reports were published, such as the story headlined, “Arizona teens bring a cupcake with a swastika in icing to a Jewish girl’s 14th birthday party.”

“This was one cupcake decorated by a 14-year- old,” said the mom. It was thoughtless and insensitive and she thought it was just being funny — but it wasn’t a hate crime nor was she trying to bully my daughter. I dare anyone out there to remember doing stupid things as a teen — we were just fortunate that social media wasn’t around to blow up everything.”

The mom said that her daughters and their friends also learned an invaluable lesson about the power of social media.

“Whereas this story has spread much further than I imagined and even wanted … it also allowed people to quickly see a photo and read a headline and assume a whole lot more than what actually happened. In the end, this was a thoughtless action by a young girl who learned some very important lessons. We all can learn lessons — whether we’re 4 or 14 or 44!”

The parents of the girls who posted the photos “were shocked that this happened and grateful that it had been brought to their attention,” said the mom. “Each parent had a meaningful conversation with their own daughter about the Holocaust, hateful symbolism, intolerance, sensitivity, friendship and standing up for what’s right. My family received heartfelt apologies from the girls who decorated the cupcake, which was enough for me. All the kids learned important lessons stemming from this event.”

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Jewish News.

 


This past week

Oftentimes, my life seems to be on one continuous loop – commutes to and from school, putting out a weekly paper, meal preparations and lots of laundry. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it’s nice to get a break from the routine. This past week has been a whirlwind of a break.

Thursday: I joined about 800 other women in our community at the Valley of the JCC for the Great AZ Challah Bake. This was part of the Shabbat Project, which reached 1,150 cities in 94 countries this year. An estimated 1 million people took part in celebrations on and around the Shabbat of Nov. 11-12, according to a press release I received.

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About 800 women and girls attended the Great AZ Challah Bake on Nov. 10 at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center. Photo courtesy of Molho Photography

The Shabbat Project’s goal of presenting an opportunity for Jewish unity was very welcome, especially this week after last week’s election spurred so much divisiveness, protests, and racist and anti-Semitic actions. According to the release, 8,000 women attended a challah bake in Buenos Aires, 15 families in a tiny Jewish enclave in Cancun, Mexico, kept Shabbat for the first-time and there was even a Shabbaton on board a cruise ship in the Atlantic.

Friday: My family and I joined about 100 other people for an outdoor Shabbat dinner in a cul-de-sac in a Phoenix neighborhood, organized through the Phoenix Community Kollel as part of the Shabbat Project. One of the beautiful things about Shabbat is sharing it with other people in a variety of ways. The weekend before, my family and I were in Flagstaff and celebrated Shabbat at Congregation Lev Shalom (previously Heichal Baornim), where we participated in a beautiful musical Shabbat service with congregants there.

Saturday: We celebrated a bar mitzvah of a friend’s son at our synagogue and coordinated some play dates.

Sunday: I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the American Jewish Press Association’s annual conference, which was held in conjunction with the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (GA). 20161114_003547 After arriving at my hotel near Dupont Circle, I had vegetarian Indian food with colleagues from Nashville, Jerusalem and Dayton, Ohio then toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of the GA.

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From an exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Monday: The AJPA conference kicked off with a “Show & Tell” session that showcased AJPA newspapers around the country, and attendees shared multiple ideas with one another. Other sessions included Dr. Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler, director of the Israel Democracy Institute Media Reform Program, who spoke about the similarities and differences between American and Israeli media; and we learned about trends, tools and technologies of new journalism and new media from Yaakov Katz, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, William Daroff, JFNA senior vice president for public policy and Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel new media editor.

AJPA attendees were also invited to attend the GA Plenary, which featured Natan Sharansky, head of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Accepting the Rockower Award on behalf of Jewish News, presented by incoming AJPA President Craig Burke, CEO of Mid-Atlantic Media. Photo courtesy of AJPA

Next, AJPA attendees headed to the International Spy Museum for the 35th annual Simon Rockower Awards reception. Plus we got to tour the museum, which was founded by philanthropist Milton Maltz and features a collection of international espionage artifacts. At the ceremony, Jewish News won first place for Outstanding Digital Outreach in Division B, for newspapers with a circulation of 14,999 or less.

Tuesday: I got a chance to meet with my husband’s cousin’s wife for breakfast. She’s an Israeli filmmaker who was in town to speak at a session at the GA and was heading back to Tel Aviv that morning. (A little plug for her – Rama Burshtein, who wrote and directed “Fill the Void,” just released a new comedy in Israel: “Through the Wall.”)

Next was a session about journalists who covered the 2016 presidential race and the struggles they faced, including anti-Semitic attacks.

The GA’s closing plenary was next, featuring a tribute to Shimon Peres, featuring his son Chemi Peres, chairman of the Peres Center for Peace; an address from JFNA President & CEO Jerry Silverman; and a video conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,

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Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the GA attendees at a plenary.

who expressed high hopes for Israel’s future relationships with other countries, citing technology partnerships as an example.

That afternoon we had a session about solution journalism (attendees from the business departments of their newspapers had some separate sessions that focused on their work) and we finished the day with a dinner meeting of AJPA’s executive board. (And then I took an evening walk, about three miles total, to the White House, with a colleague from Nashville.)

Wednesday: The conference came to a close with a change in plans – an opportunity to visit the State Department with briefings from government officials: Ira Forman, special envoy of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; Chanan Weissman, the White House Jewish liaison; Tom Yazdgerdim, special envoy for Holocaust Issues; and Michael Yaffe, senior adviser of the special envoy to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. 20161116_091731

After that it was a lunch during AJPA’s annual meeting and then we all headed home to our respective cities – and newspapers and communities.

All of these experiences made me realize just how small our world is and how interconnected we are and how many people work so diligently to bring good into the world. Despite the feelings of divisiveness and hatred that have been expressed this past week in the aftermath of the election, we have to remember that all of that is nothing new – it has always existed and will likely always exist (Ira Forman said the same thing about anti-Semitism during the briefing at the State Department).

We need to focus on the good and work hard to bring out the goodness in the world instead of focusing only on the bad. Hearing about all the good being done around the world – the GA plenaries also included stories told by individuals from Greece, Israel, Morocco and the Ukraine – I felt some light was brought into the darkness that overshadowed the world in the days after the election.

And now on to all the laundry that piled up in my absence …

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Phoenix Jewish News.


Jeremy Piven’s ‘entourage’ gifts him with an ambucycle in Israel

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Actor Jeremy Piven, who won three consecutive Emmys for his portrayal of the character Ari Gold  on HBO’S “Entourage,” received an ambucycle last week from his buddies, recently retired NBA all-star Amare Stoudemire and current NBA star Omri Casspi. The ambucycle immediately became part of Israel’s national emergency medical services (EMS) organization, United Hatzalah’s, response team.

“Just the idea that we can use what we do with this life for good is a gift,” said Piven, in a release. “And I thank you for this gift. Use it well.”

Stoudemire, a personal friend of Piven, is no stranger to United Hatzalah. The former Miami Heat player and New York Knicks all-star was introduced to the organization during a previous trip to Israel. In 2014 Stoudemire launched a campaign entitled “Amar’e Saves,” to raise money for United Hatzalah. His efforts helped to raise close to half a million dollars in just one season. Now, Stoudemire is continuing to pay it forward and save lives by gifting Piven with an ambucycle in honor of Jeremy’s bar mitzvah. Casspi together with CharityBids CEO Israel Schachter and actor-promoter Dave Osokow partnered in dedicating the ambucycle in honor of Piven.

Piven, who won a Golden Globe and three consecutive Emmys for his portrayal of the character Ari Gold on HBO’s “Entourage”, celebrated his second bar mitzvah on the rooftop of the Aish HaTorah building a few hours before the beginning of the Sabbath. Following the closed ceremony, Piven’s entourage, including Casspi, Stoudemire and others, made their way to the entrance of the Western Wall Plaza where the ambucycle dedication ceremony took place.

Dovi Maisel, United Hatzalah’s Director of International Operations, presented Piven with the ambucycle. “When top-tier athletes and Hollywood celebrities use their personal achievements to make a positive impact, they become inspirational role models. Our role models at United Hatzalah come from all segments of the population and save lives everyday with ambucycles just like this one. This ambucycle that is being dedicated in your honor will go on to save more than 800 people a year,” said Maisel.

Stoudemire and Casspi unveiled the ambucycle, after which, Piven donned a United Hatzalah vest, sat on the motorcycle, and discussed his feelings upon the joyous occasion of his bar mitzvah and receiving this meaningful gift from his friends. “This is a hell of a surprise for me, and I am incredibly honored and thankful that you guys (referring to Stoudemire, Casspi, Schachter and Osokow) initiated this. So thank you for this gift.”

When asked to cut the ceremonial ribbon on the ambucycle, Piven quipped, “I’m not a mohel, but I played one on TV.” Becoming more serious, Piven added, “I feel totally honored, and the fact that these people are donating their time (to save lives) is incredible. Saving people, no matter who they are, is what life is all about. So thank you and Mazal Tov.”

The Omri Casspi Foundation, which helped organize the trip and the bar mitzvah celebration, is dedicated to bringing people, many of whom are celebrities, from the US to Israel in order to raise awareness of the beauty of the country. Traci Szymanski has, for the past two years, been working with the foundation and was involved in coordinating many of the aspects to ensure the current mission’s success. Also travelling with the group is welterweight champion Georges St.-Pierre, female poker pro Maria Ho, WNBA players Alysha Clark and Mistie Bass and NBA players Shaun Marion, Rudy Gay and Chris Copeland.

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Jeremy Piven sits atop his United Hatzalah Ambucycle accompanied by Amare Stoudemire, Omri Casspi, friends and staff members of United Hatzalah. Photo courtesy of United Hatzalah

 

 

 


AMHSI: Shabbat in Jerusalem

Arizona high school students who are spending this summer at Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), through the Schwartz-Hammer AMHSI Impact Fund and the JNF Boruchin Educational Fund are writing blog posts from Israel, which we are reposting here with permission from JNF. Here is one written by Allison Tarr, who is sharing her Shabbat reflections.

Shabbat in Jerusalem was like no Shabbat I have ever experienced. Friday afternoon we went to the shuk. There were so many people there buying so many different things. I believe everyone should go at some point even if they aren’t going to buy something. That night we went to the Kotel for Shabbat. I thought there was a lot of people the last time we went, but that was nothing compared to the Kotel on Shabbat. There were hundreds of people praying and singing and dancing. I don’t know how to describe the scene other than saying it was beautiful.

Saturday morning I woke up early to go with some other people to The Orthodox morning services. Being from a Reform congregation, it was an interesting experience to have the men and the women separated. The singing of the prayers had the feeling of organized chaos. I’ve never heard anything like it. After services we went to a park and later went on a walk through some more orthodox parts of Jerusalem.  The city was so quiet, with everything closed and hardly a car on the road. That Is something you don’t see back in America. That night we had a beautiful Havdalah service before heading back to campus.

Me on a thing at the park: https://youtu.be/LMRVYmEll5s

Early this we we learned a little bit about Hasidism and our teacher told us how often times they would sing nigunim, songs without words, and we proceeded to spend the next five minutes singing a nigun: https://youtu.be/J-dvkyYnvZw

This week started learning about the early Zionist movement and the first and second aliyahs. Today we went to the Kinneret and say where people of the second aliyah worked to reconnect the Jewish people to the land of Israel.

This Shabbat I will be at the Bedouin tents. I looked forward to that and everything to follow.

To read more of the student’s blogs, visit blog.amhsi.org/AZImpactFund.


Can a soldier with one leg ride a surfboard?

Valley residents Esther and Don Schon recently returned from visits to France and Israel as part of Jewish Federations of North America’s Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission. The Schons are the Major Gifts Chairs in the 2016 Campaign Cabinet of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. This guest blog post was written by the Schons on July 17.

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Teen surfing instructors head from a Tel Aviv beach to their Mediterranean “classroom.” Photo courtesy of the Schons

Can a soldier with one leg ride a surfboard? I would have said no until yesterday (July 16). But then I went to the beach in Tel Aviv.

A third of Israeli Jews live below the poverty line. Where there are poor adults there are impoverished children, and Israel is no exception. When these impoverished children become teenagers, they are at high risk for succumbing to drug addiction, prostitution, crime and prison. Or, at least until two ex-soldiers, one with a law degree, decided that because they liked surfing and needed something meaningful to do they would start a program to teach disadvantaged teens how to surf. Scrounging donations from the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), which receives funding from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), equipment manufacturers, school budgets and philanthropists, they put together a program for at-risk teens from high schools of last resort.

They selected students who said they wanted to learn to surf. They started by teaching the teens to balance on a board, but as their students learned that skill, they talked about balance in life. As the students graduated to waves, they also talked about the waves and ups and downs they face in life. The teens were introduced to tasks that required group participation both for balance and to achieve a goal and then they talked about the effect that their actions had on others and the meaning and effectiveness of teamwork.

Before going out into the ocean, the students had to study a manual and demonstrate learning by taking a test. And now since they could study for and pass a test on the beach, why not in school? Pride on the board led to pride in the group and, ultimately, to individual and group success.

The vast majority of the 750 teens who have gone through the program have finished high school rather than finish with drugs.

But the two ex-soldiers were worried. The initial program lasted was less than a year. To really have an ongoing effect on the lives of the students, the soldiers needed to extend the program. But to go further they needed funds. Since they now had equipment and space, they started a for-profit summer camp and put together a team development program to market to companies in Israel. To do this, they needed instructors and counselors. So after obtaining a start-up development grant from JFNA through JAFI the former soldiers trained the students who had completed the initial program to be counselors and instructors.

Now, the ex-soldiers had an income stream to pay for and extend the program. A Knesset member, hearing about the program, reasoned that if we can give new skills and confidence to at-risk teens, why not severely injured and traumatized soldiers? We watched a film crew documenting an IDF pilot on crutches with mangled legs and a soldier with an above-the-knee amputation get on surf boards in the sea with these teen instructors.

So I the way we see it, a Jew in Phoenix gives a donation to the federation and money ends up in the hands of two enterprising young Israelis, who help underprivileged teens have a productive life. Is that not what our ethics tell us is right?

 


French Jews: To stay or to go?

Valley residents Esther and Don Schon just returned from visits to France and Israel as part of Jewish Federations of North America’s Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission. The Schons are the Major Gifts Chairs in the 2016 Campaign Cabinet of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. This guest blog post was written by the Schons on July 13.

The conundrum “Do we go or do we stay?” may well summarize the agonizing decision that French Jews face.

Jews in France make up the third-largest Jewish population in the West, but represent less than 1 percent of the French population. Contrast this with a Muslim population of an estimated 10 million. Because of anti-Semitism, 12,000 French Jews have made aliyah in the last five years. Many of the immigrants are funded with money raised through JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America) facilitated by The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).
About 900 anti-Semitic incidents involving individual Jews or families occurred this past year. Jews, 1 percent of the population, experienced 50 percent of hate-related episodes in France last year. Anti-Semitism is not uniformly distributed in France. Professionals we met living in upper-middle-class areas did not fear their environment, and were working with government ministers to make hate speech of all kinds illegal.

However, we met residents of Sarcelles, a lower-middle-class neighborhood outside of Paris. They experience fear every day. They do not wear Jewish jewelry or kippot outside. Expressions of hatred – verbal and sometimes physical – are everyday experiences.
On the other hand, wealthier neighborhoods are free of these problems. We also listened to a panel of young entrepreneurs who feel they are creating a new post-Holocaust reality in France above the level of ignorance-based prejudice. On the other hand, we spoke with a graduate student and a law student, both at the Sorbonne, who felt traumatized on a frequent basis by Islamic students and by professors with views from the far left or far right.

So Jews move from the smaller cities to Paris for safety and comradeship denuding these areas of Jewish culture and tradition. Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris, now has 15,000 Jewish residents crowded into one square kilometer. In 2014, 1,700 recent Arab immigrants, incited by radical imams trained in North Africa and the Middle East, marched through the Jewish section burning cars, smashing all in their path, forcing terrified Jewish children to cower in their homes.

About 8,000 Jews made aliyah last year from France. But school funding to Jewish day schools from the government is per child. Thus, classrooms are closing. Jewish culture is in danger of contracting and without a strong diaspora population, it is questionable that the French government will continue to fight anti-Semitism and support Israel in the future.

JAFI sends over 100 Jews making aliyah to Israel every two weeks. Today [July 13], we personally were chosen to hand tickets and passports to 220 individuals. We all experienced tears of happiness for this great honor.

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Esther Schon has just presented Mr. Souffir with the passports, plane tickets and other documents needed for his family to make Aliyah. Photo courtesy of the Schons

So do they go or do they stay? The beauty of what our federations are doing in France is allowing each individual Jew the gift of choice on a non-need-based basis. We in Phoenix and around North America help them fight anti-Semitism and connect to world Jewry if they elect to stay. We also help them make aliyah if they wish to leave. Each gets to choose. What could be more beautiful?


The fight against terror’s trauma

Valley residents Esther and Don Schon, who were in France as part of Jewish Federations of North America’s Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission, wrote this post on July 12. The Schons are the Major Gifts Chars in the 2016 Campaign Cabinet of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. 

We are in Paris with a Federation mission trying to understand why we should be here. Jews were expelled from France in 1492, not coming back until the French Revolution. Fully integrated, French Jews identified as Frenchmen who were Jewish.

During and after World War II, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) helped rehabilitate and re-establish a vibrant Jewish community. As Western Europe recovered, evolved and became prosperous, the role of JDC and its sister organization JAFI (the Jewish Agency For Israel) faded away from Western Europe, concentrating on cultures emerging from communism.

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Valerie Abraham, whose husband was killed in last year’s terror attack on the HyperCacher market, speaks to the JFNA campaign chairs and directors mission on July 12 in Paris. Photo courtesy of the Schons

Then came the attack on a Jewish day school in Toulouse in 2012, and the Charlie Hebdo and HyperCacher (kosher supermarket) massacres in Paris last year. Terrorism was new to France. Institutions in general and the organized Jewish community in Paris were paralyzed and traumatized. Immediately, the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) stepped in to offer counseling and organizational expertise with their Community Resilience Center. These resources had been developed in Israel in response to terror and disasters. They are available and have been used around the world after natural disasters in Haiti and the Philippines and after terrorism in Boston and now Europe. JFNA adopted the concept that any Jew should be able to live without fear in any city in Europe and around the world.

JDC and JAFI receiving funding from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Without this financial support, neither organization would be able to exist. With this funding, trauma support is available immediately.

About 500,000 Jews currently live in France. Anti-Semitism has been on the rise there for 10 years. At first using denial, the French government downplayed the significance of these events. But since the massacres in Belgium and Paris over the past year, things have changed. Jewish schools and institutions now have three soldiers standing guard at all times. Funded with philanthropic dollars from the French community, the Rothschild Foundation and the French government, the Jewish community has and is developing its own security organization. ITC is additionally doing teacher training in Jewish day schools. All of this exists in great part because of North American dollars collected, administered and distributed by JFNA.

We were able to be there when the Jews of Paris needed us because federation-funded programs are there every day. Today we are donors and safe, but tomorrow we could be victims and vulnerable. We are one tribe. We take care of each other. After Sept. 11, 2001,  the ITC sent a team to New York  to help deal with an unspeakable terror and grief. Fourteen years or so later, Israel dealt with Hamas with Operation Protective Edge and invaded Gaza. People trained in NYC in 2001 went to Israel to help them deal with trauma and grief. One day we may be the benefactor, the next we may be the victim. In our tribe, we take care of each other.

 

 


AMHSI: Students arrive in Israel

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Akiva, a teacher at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), leads students in the song “One Day” at a site overlooking Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of JNF

Some Arizona high school students are spending this summer at Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), through the Schwartz-Hammer AMHSI Impact Fund and the JNF Boruchin Educational Fund. The students are writing blog posts from Israel, which we are reposting here with permission from JNF.

The first week

This past week has been the longest week of my life – in the best way. Within days, I met people from all over the country who I can already tell are going to be lifelong friends. For the first time in my life, I’m surrounded by people my age who are equally passionate about Israel and forming our Jewish identities as teenagers.

Our week started out with an 11-hour plane ride to Tel Aviv and then a bus to Hod Hasharon where we met our madrichim and got our dorm and room assignments. Despite the raging jet lag, our first Shabbat was a ton of fun because we got to celebrate together as a new family.

Our first tiyul was to Tel Gezer where we learned about the ancient culture of the Canaanites. We got to see how they learned to farm and get water despite living in the mountains, and how they learned to defend themselves against enemies who wanted to take over their homes. We also learned about the binding of Isaac and how Abraham became the first Jew.

– Caroline Carriere

Feeling connected

This past week has been very interesting and eventful. At the beginning of this week I questioned my Judaism. I don’t believe in a god, so how can that make me a Jew? But my teacher Elhanan has helped me answer that question in just the first week! What I’ve learned is that it’s not about God, it’s about our heritage and our tradition. From the top of the mountain that Gideon tested his soldiers with a water test, I could see a Palestinian village that was separated from Israel’s authority. It wasn’t a god that divided us, it was 100 percent about our beliefs.

All of the beliefs of the Jewish people is what I try to embody in my life every day. Whether it is me giving money to the homeless because it is my Jewish duty and not charity or spending six weeks in the Holy Land.

A really big highlight of this trip so far is my trip to the Western Wall. As I said before I don’t believe in God, but I went ahead and wrapped myself in tefillin anyway. As I walked over to the wall that towered in front of me, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was connected to every other Jew in the world. The wall itself was nothing short of amazing. The outside of it felt waxy and all the cracks where cut into sloppy uneven bricks. I looked to my left and saw an old man rubbing his beard against the wall. He looked over at me and put his arm around me and it was the closest I’ve ever felt to God. My religion at this moment has finally become important to me.

 -Brian Grobmeier

New friends, ancient sites, great food

This week was full of new friends, ancient sites and great food. We took our first two tiyuls that traced the story of our ancestors. Learning about history in class and then experiencing it on trips makes each site very meaningful. I love being able to understand the significance of what I’m seeing.

The first tiyul was to Tel Gezer. I learned many archaeological terms as well as some very questionable pagan rituals. After the short hike, we were given free time to explore Hod Hasharon. I finally tried a Moshikos smoothie, after hearing about its deliciousness for days. The smoothie definitely lived up to the reviews. The next day, we were given free time in Herzliya. Being from Arizona, I was probably more excited than most for the beach and was happy to get to swim in the ocean without driving five hours first. Tuesday was the beginning of my favorite trip so far – the tiyul (trip) to Jerusalem. We started out in Har Gilboa. I expected to be struggling in the back of the group during the hike, but surprisingly many people had never hiked before and I managed not to trip over too many rocks. After the hike, we cooled off in the Sachneh. I explored the different waterfalls and met many natives who were nice enough to even share their food.

On Wednesday, we walked through the tunnels that King Hezekiah created to survive the siege by the Assyrians. We saw the snaking path that was a result of the different tunnel builders following each other’s voices. After the tunnels, our class got ready to visit the Kotel for the first time. It was incredible to pray at the same place that our ancestors wanted to visit so badly, but unfortunately oftentimes never made it to. Praying to the wall while touching it instead of praying toward the wall from thousands of miles away was very powerful. Seeing direct evidence of the Jewish people’s connection to Israel proved to me why Israel advocacy is so important. Because both college teens and international leaders ruthlessly condemn Israel, sometimes it seems hard to justify why Israelis put up with so much to be in a land that is surrounded by so many enemies. The Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel is very apparent, especially in Jerusalem, and it is a miracle that after so many years of exile, the Jewish people get to return and thrive there.

After praying at the Kotel, we went to Ben Yehuda Street. Last summer, I spent a month living on Ben Yehuda Street while interning for the Ethiopian National Project. Going there with my dorm brought back so many memories. The best moment was when I went to my favorite jewelry store and the owner remembered me. He asked how my mom was because he remembered her, as well, and gave me a great discount without me having to bargain in my broken Hebrew. Jerusalem will always be special to me, and I had a great time learning the Jewish people’s history at the site where it all happened.

– Hannah Miller

Fulfilling a great-grandfather’s wish

I came to Israel to embark on a spiritual journey. Four years ago, my great-grandfather passed away. His funeral was on a clear December day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. As we were reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, a flurry of pink bougainvillea leaves in a dust storm crossed over the tent. When his coffin hit the ground, the dust storm stopped, and the leaves fell. I’ve always seen dust storms as a sign that he’s with me.

As we were driving to Jerusalem yesterday, I noticed another dust storm begin to form in the desert. I knew it was him telling me I was in the right place. His lasting regret was never being able to make it to Israel. Israel was mostly a figment of his imagination: He was always too stubborn to travel and he never had the money. I’m here in Israel, the first in four generations of my family, to fulfill his wish.

We were blindfolded as we approached the city limits of Jerusalem. When we arrived, we all staggered our way out of the bus, using each other’s shoulders as a guide. I thought of my great-grandfather as I lifted my blindfold, and tears formed in my eyes. We were overlooking the city, the gilded dome of Temple Mount gleaming in the sun. My friend Dani said to me, “You’re home now.” She couldn’t have been more right.

Today, we explored Jerusalem. We walked inside the famous water tunnel in the City of David as we studied King David’s lineage and emphasis on agriculture. It was an incredible experience, singing songs and walking in frigid water with some of your new best friends.

We then went to the Western Wall. I had brought my great-grandfather’s tallit with me in order to finish his journey to Israel. As I prayed with his tallit wrapped around my back, I felt connected not just to him but to Judaism. I cried again as I thought of him and how proud he’d be of me.

This is why I’m in Israel. These six weeks were about connecting with my religion and absorbing the culture and history. What I’ve discovered is a sense of belonging I didn’t know was missing.

– Josh Kaplan


Casting call for boy for new Spielberg film

The makers of a new Steven Spielberg film are looking to cast a boy able to portray a Jewish Italian 6 year old. No acting experience is necessary – they’re looking for a “very special, real kid.”

Here are the details:

ROLE “EDGARDO”: BOY age 6-9 to play 6 years old. This is a unique and very challenging part for a truly special boy. The story deals with the complexity of an extremely intelligent and gifted child’s situation – his desire to return to his family and the faith of his ancestors, pitted against his ability to learn the Catechism and engage with the Pope on a level far beyond his years. He should appear to be a Jewish Italian child. We are not looking for any kind of Italian accent.

STORY LINE: “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara”— Steven Spielberg is making a film about the true story of EDGARDO MORTARA – a 6-year-old Jewish boy from Bologna who was reported to have been secretly baptized by a maid, and was deemed by the Catholic church therefore to be Christian. Pope Pius IX (to be played by Mark Rylance) decreed that the boy could not remain with his Jewish family. He was seized by the Papal State and taken to the Vatican where his indoctrination into Catholicism began. This was a cause célèbre of mid-nineteenth century European politics and the domestic and international outrage against the pontifical state’s actions may have contributed to its downfall amid the unification of Italy. This is an incredible story of real historical relevance.

Please note several CD’s are covering this project, per overall CD Ellen Lewis: We (Debbie DeLisi/DeLisi Creative) are covering people that live in all regions in the US/Canada, EXCEPT if LA, CA (CD Tannis Vallely) & NYC based (Rori Bergman). If you’re based in LA or NYC, submit to Tannis or Rori. If you are based in any other area — please submit to us at delisicreative@gmail.com.

To submit: Email delisicreative@gmail.com. Subject line: EDGARDO SUBMISSION / Name of boy, city/state. Body of email: Parents/Guardians contact info (names/phone), boys name/age/d.o.b, city/state of residence, along w/current non retouched photos. If you’d like to include a brief introduction, bio or resume, please do! Please note any related, special, or fun facts so we get to know him!


Celebrating International Yoga Day

Tuesday, June 21 is International Yoga Day and in recognition of this, the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center is hosting four free yoga classes tomorrow.

“Yoga has so many benefits for both the mind and body that we wanted to take this opportunity to invite the community to experience it at no cost,” said Denise Krater, fitness director, in a release. “Regular yoga practice improves strength, balance and flexibility while releasing tension and stress.”

The J’s yoga offerings on June 21 include:

9:30 a.m.:  Yoga Flow, which uses flowing movements paired with breath to release mind and body;

11 a.m.:  Restorative Yoga, which aims to rejuvenate the body;

Noon: Gentle Yoga, which uses gentle postures to strengthen core and increase flexibility and is great for beginners; and

6 p.m.  Power Yoga, which provides challenging poses to increase strength and stamina.

The classes are free and open to the community. Participants should wear comfortable clothes and bring water.

The Valley of the Sun JCC is an inclusive community center open to all ages, faiths, backgrounds and abilities. It is located at 12701 N. Scottsdale Road, just south of Sweetwater.

In a statement issued from Nevada last week, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed commended the VOSJCC for offering these free classes, as well as offering regular yoga training.

Yoga, referred to as “a living fossil,” was a mental and physical discipline for everybody to share and benefit from, which can be traced back to around 2,000 BCE to Indus Valley civilization, noted Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, in the statement.

He further said that yoga, although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, was a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all. According to Patanjali who codified it in Yoga Sutra, yoga was a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical.

The statement also included information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which said that yoga may help one to feel more relaxed, be more flexible, improve posture, breathe deeply and get rid of stress. According to a recently released “2016 Yoga in America Study,” about 37 million Americans (which included many celebrities) now practice yoga; and yoga is strongly correlated with having a positive self-image.  Yoga was the repository of something basic in the human soul and psyche, Zed added.