CBI’s trip to Israel: A moment of transcendent gratitude

Members of Congregation Beth Israel are wrapping up a trip to Israel led by Rabbi Stephen Kahn. Here’s a note from Ken Seidberg, written on Dec. 24, about one of the highlights of the trip for him.

We hear from others who have visited Israel that every day one experiences a sight or an event so significant, so different that it will stay with you forever.  Since visits to Israel for most of us are few and far between, when that time arrives we can only hope that will be true for us.  Today I think I can say that we all shared such a moment.

That moment occurred for us all in the furthest northern border of Israel. At the Israel-Lebanon border, overlooking the Hula Valley and with Mount Hermon’s snowcapped peaks and the vast range of the Golan nearly in sight, our CBI troop met a man named Eitan.  A slight, lean but strong man of 53 with incredible resolve and love for his life in Israel as a “farmer” met our troop of 18 CBI’ers with a purpose to show us two things: his Israel and the men that make his Israel possible.

His Israel was evident to us as he proudly led us over the hills to fields of apples and kiwis. He spoke of these vast fields of green like a father retelling stories of his son’s acts of heroism. These fields were his life’s work and his legacy to Israel.  And the stark barren and rocky Lebanese side drew a sharp contrast to two people, Israelis who worked to make life better and worth living and those on the other side he sought hard not to call his “enemy.”


CBI bat mitzvah Reann Bressler plants a kiwi tree at Kibbutz Malkia on the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo courtesy of CBI

Eitan thanked us for entrusting him with his protection and particularly the six children on our bus to his care there in the fields as he took us within meters of Hezbollah’s southern watch post. Eitan, however, took us for a special task.  We arrived at section of a beautiful “orchard,” and leaving the bus, we followed him to the side of that field.  There he showed us a recovered and disarmed Katyusha missile that had been fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon into the fields.  He then showed us two kiwi plants he had set aside for the young adults in our group to plant, which they did while we all watched…he said that our response to Hezbollah’s evil ways would be to do the Jewish thing; the Israeli thing … to plant fruit trees.

Eitan received a phone call and advised we needed to immediately go to another location. He had arranged a rendezvous with IDF soldiers tasked with protecting Israel’s northern border.  After some moments’ drive, we saw them; eight uniformed and armed IDF soldiers beside two armor plated military vehicles (one topped with a machine gun).  These 19-year-old “men” with M16, radio and other equipment strapped to their bodies watched us intently as we approached them from our bus.  One could see in their eyes a look that expressed…”who are these people?” and “what do they really want?”  Of course, they knew generally. Eitan, the “farmer” and military liaison for Kibbutz Malkia had told them. But the look was still there… that guarded look.

We made our introductions and Rabbi Kahn presented them with a few practical gifts: coffee burners and paraphernalia they could use in the field and some food. This was a small way for us to show them we appreciated them and what they were doing for Israel and for every Jew and non-Jew who loves Israel.

But then that moment came: that moment of emotion that overwhelms you when you realize how important that moment is in your life. The realization and understanding of what these men these 19-year-old men are doing requires, demands from you more than gifts. The moment compels you to tell these men what they mean to you and how much you love what they do and, yes, even love them though you don’t even know them. And we did. We told them and we told them that while we were not there with them last summer, we followed them, we prayed for them and we cried for their (our) lost lives those terrible two months. We told them they were as our own sons.

The day was not over for us but in truth the climax of our day had come. The moment we came to Israel for… the moment we take home for the rest of our lives had come. It was a moment of transcendent gratitude — where we deeply understood what it means to be part of the Jewish People … of the Jewish Family.


Gabrielle Kahn, 13, along with other CBI members, brought gifts to IDF soldiers protecting the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo courtesy of CBI

Hockey Schtick Night’s big stars – besides the Coyotes, that is

Consider the Arizona Coyotes and gefilte fish, could there be two more incongruous images? One is a wild animal that can inflict pain and the other a Jewish culinary tradition that satisfies Passover appetites.

Well, they’re teaming up, sort of, for Hockey Schtick night, the Coyotes’ annual outreach to the Jewish community. It’s taking place this Thursday, Dec. 11, at the newly renamed Gila River Arena in Glendale. The highlight, of course, is the game between the ‘Yotes and the Nashville Predators, which starts at 7 p.m. The game will be preceded indoors by the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Cantor Melissa Berman of Congregation Or Tzion.

But for Yehudie and the Gefilte Fish, the highlight of their musical career might well be their appearance outside the arena playing Jewish music for passers-by and avid Coyotes fans before the game.

“We’re thrilled,” says Michael Alexander, the band’s “de facto leader.” “We got connected up to Hockey Schtick Night through our member Jason Kaller  who does some business together with Dan Berman (who helped set up the special discount tickets for the Hockey Schtick game, see details below). We’re thrilled that Dan reached out to us and asked if we could participate.”

The band’s Thursday gig will run from about 5:30 p.m. to 6:50 or so, Alexander says, to give people time to get into the arena for the game.

So we had to ask first thing, we know there’s Yehuda brand gefilte fish, but isn’t the band name a reference to a once-hotter-than-a-comet rock band known as Hootie and the Blowfish?

“Yes,” says “de facto leader” Michael Alexander, chuckling. “There are people that don’t get that reference. We thought it was catchy, so I hope it is catchy and not confusing. We thought about spelling it Yehootie, but it didn’t quite make it, and the Yehudie business card is printed now.”

The group started when Alexander and two other congregants at Temple Kol Ami starting playing with the congregational rock band that plays monthly at Cafe Kol Ami events. The group’s current lineup started in 2013 and played its first gig at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center’s open house that August.

The current lineup and their affiliations are:  Alexander on keyboards and vocals, Jason Kaller on drums and David Manley on guitar and vocals, all from Kol Ami;  Josh Ornstein on bass and Keyle Kosowsky on vocals (the band’s first female member recently joined), both from Temple Solel; and David “DR” Rosenfeld on lead guitar, from Congregation Or Tzion. So this is like a major tour to schlep from the Northeast Valley to the wilds of Glendale.

“The material that we play is really from decidedly Jewish songwriters, contemporary Jewish songwriters and recording artists, Rick Recht, Josh Nelson, Todd Herzog, Rabbi Joe Black,” Alexander says. “I’ve had my non-Jewish friends say, ‘Jewish rock? I don’t get it.’ I say, ‘Well, do you know what Christian rock is?'” That helps them sort-of get it, Alexander says.

“Easily half of our songs are sung in Hebrew,” he adds. “It’s a rock band format, though. It’s not klezmer, it’s not chamber music, it’s decidedly rock – Jewish rock.”

Their Shabbat appearances at Temple Kol Ami are all about Shabbat liturgies and melodies, Alexander says. “We were doing that for about a year, and we were like, ‘Let’s take it to the next level and see what we can do with this thing.'”

They do it for the love of Jewish music and the camaraderie of playing with people of a common background, he adds. “A lot of our gigs are done as a service. We provide that as members of the community.” (In fact, after the Hockey Schtick gig, Yehudie and the Gefilte Fish’s next appearance is to head a Thursday, Dec. 18, jam session as part of the Hanukkah in the Hallway activities being held by the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center, Dec. 17-24.)

–Details: Discounted tickets from the game are $21 for the upper level ends, Row H and higher; $36 for the upper level center straights; and $44 for the lower level ends, Row T and higher. To access the discounts, visit arizonacoyotes.com/hockeyschtick and use the code: schtick – or contact Dan Berman at 602-680-5550, ext. 1 or dan@groupticketsamerica.com.


Congregation Merkaz Ha-Iyr introduces “Dreidel Shark”

“No one spins a dreidel like the dreidel shark,” according to a new video produced by members of Congregation Merkaz Ha-Iyr in Phoenix.

“The Dreidel Shark,” aka Asher Kaye, hustles other children in dreidel games. The song was written by Merkaz member Randy Warner and sung by his daughter Sarah Warner. The video was produced and directed by member Stan Burech, the father of Rabbi Erica Burech. Other congregants – children and adults – sing and act in the video.

Randy Warner said he wrote the song about three years ago and last year after his daughter took voice classes at school, they decided to record it. The bulk of the filming was done this past spring and the progressive Jewish congregation, which meets at the corner of Central and Northern avenues in Phoenix, debuted the video at a Nov. 14 Shabbat service.

Check it out here:

Learn more about Congregation Merkaz Ha-Iyr here.