JNF Fellows: Ben-Gurion’s house, the Golan Heights and lots of falafel


The teens in the Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are in the final stages of their six-week journey at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, the students reflect on the past week.

Sunday/July 19

This very well might be the only Sunday in which we haven’t stayed on campus! The morning started off in the town of Sde Boker in the Negev. At Revivim, we learned about Ben Gurion’s dream of building up the Negev. We saw meteorological instruments and remnants of the first kibbutzim. There was a well-animated video expressing all of Ben Gurion’s aspirations and followed the region chronologically through its growth. It was amazing to see his passions and visions come to life.

Our next stop was his house. The rooms were fully intact and depicted the same scenes as the famous pictures. What a concept- such a visionary living so humbly.

At Ein Ovdat, we hiked through the beautiful landscape of the Negev. The dirt walls stretched from the clouds to the pools in the valleys. It was not an easy expedition but definitely worth it.

After a much-needed shower, I headed into town for dinner with a friend. We had a competition to see who could fit the most falafel into their pita. I think I won with a total of 10, but I’m pretty sure the record is around 17. My day was as jam-packed as my pita!

– Madyssen Zarin

Wednesday/July 22

Today we continued learning about the founding of the state of Israel, specifically David Ben-Gurion. We learned how twice in his life he abandoned comfort and security to devote himself fully to the development of Eretz Yisrael.

The story of him resigning as prime minister to move to a kibbutz in the Negev was surprising and funny. It was difficult for me to fully understand why someone would leave the most important job in Israel to develop a desert. In America, it would never happen that a president or anyone with a lot of power would resign to do a meager job in a seemingly insignificant place. But the true beauty of Israel, more than the physical beauty is the devotion of the people.

David Ben-Gurion realized that to develop a Jewish state, the Jewish people had to develop themselves to be better through hardship. The Negev presents the perfect opportunity for people to build themselves. I now fully understand why Israel is the leader in technological advancements they are today, they have to be. To survive in such a difficult place people must innovate to survive. David Ben-Gurion knew this in the 1950s and was completely right to build a Jewish state he must build the Jewish people.

– Gabe Friedland

Thursday/July 23

It saddens me to say that our last tiyul (class) has come to a close, but it’s with happiness that I say it has been my favorite tiyul at HSI. The past two days were spent in the Golan Heights, the northern most point of Israel. We had a jam-packed two days, but it was so worth it.

Yesterday we left campus bright and early and had a bit of a drive to the Golan. We had class atop a Syrian bunker, heard a fascinating speaker at thekibbutz that overlooks Lebanon and went rafting down the Jordan River. Yet, today was my favorite part. This morning we woke up, ate a hearty breakfast and prepared for a treacherous hike. The hike and sweat was completely worth it when we came across a magnificent waterfall. We all hopped in to the cool water where we had a fun swim while we cooled off. After the fun, we had to trudge back up the mountain. I have done hikes here that I never would have done myself. Knowing what I am capable of now is completely different than what I thought before this experience.

We stopped for lunch at a falafel place and then headed to the Syrian/Israeli border. We had another extremely interesting class (aren’t they all?) about the 1973 war while we looked out into The Valley of Tears where it happened. What an extremely powerful moment. From there, the next destination was a kibbutz where we watched a fascinating yet really helpful documentary about the war. Sitting there and seeing live action happening at the valley that we were just sitting at was absolutely mind-blowing.

tank2On our way back to campus, we stopped at an overlook of the Hula Valley where we split into classes and had a serious talk about our past tiyulim. Everyone said what their favorite tiyul was, what materialistic item they love and what intangible item they are bringing home.

It feels like I have been in Israel for months, yet I can recall the first day of HSI exactly. This is my last blog post and I can’t express everything I am feeling. I can’t even begin to sum up these six weeks…there is no “sum up.” Everything I have learned and seen will be with me forever. I have memories that will last me a lifetime. I truly feel like I lived in a different country, was immersed in a different culture and grew as a person. I hope to share everything I have felt and learned with everyone at home and maybe spark something in someone else. Being in Israel makes everything clearer, every moment brighter and every memory happier.

It has been the time of my life here in Israel. The people I met and the memories I am coming home with will be with me for my entire life. It has been such an honor writing for the HSI blog. I hope anyone who reads this understands that you don’t have to be religious, or a hiker, or good at school, or outgoing etc… to come here and have a good time. This program is literally for everyone and anyone. My life has been changed by living in Israel and I hope that can happen for many more people to come.”

Rachael Weinstein

JNF Fellows: From Yad Vashem to Tel Aviv and Israeli sweets


Four of the five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel (the fifth had to return home due to a health issue). Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, the students reflect on the past week.

Sunday, July 12

Not that other days were ever bad, but I don’t know if I’ve gone to bed this happy yet! It was another Sunday filled with class but for some reason it was different. We spent the day learning about the Holocaust.

I was disappointed with the brevity of the lesson, but that’s just the reality of a six-week program. I wonder how many other important facts I’m missing out on due to time constraints. With the help of many videos, we spent the morning talking about the lead-up to the Holocaust, while we addressed the action and aftermath during the afternoon session. After lunch, the entire campus gathered together for pictures, including family of alumni and students from each state or region.

Once class was out, I went to sign out with my madricha, Gai, with some friends from my dorm. Before I could even ask to do so, she asked if I wanted coffee and proceeded to make some before I could even answer. She is so amazing!

In town, I got my first Moshiko smoothie! Moshiko is a well-known smoothie stand about five minutes away from campus. Most people go there at least once a day. Any trip I’ve ever made was for someone else – but not this time! I got a strawberry/banana/mango smoothie. And no…it is NOT overrated!

Next we headed into one of the eight markets to get some chocolate for our midnight cravings. The last stop was at the bakery. Since I couldn’t decide which pastry to get, naturally, the only solution was to get one of each. I left the store with about eight baked goods and they were all gone within 24 hours. I couldn’t be more thankful for the amount of walking we do!

Following dinner, there was a series of Holocaust movies shown. I watched “Defiance” with Daniel Craig. It was very informative, and I was pleased to see a movie I had not yet seen. If a movie about the Holocaust wasn’t sad enough, Reuben left that night. Madeline and I walked him to the gate, while Gabe and his cousin, Rachel, escorted him to the airport. The whole campus was talking about how much he would be missed. I can’t even begin to imagine how he feels, but that just goes to show how amazing his experience here has been!

As the madrichim made their rounds during “lights out,” Yosef sang us to sleep. Our room had a sing-a-long as he played Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz songs on his guitar. While my Sunday blogs are generally uneventful, there was really something special about today.

– Madyssen Zarin

Monday, July 13

“Yesterday, we spent hours and hours in class learning about the Holocaust, a topic we are all very familiar with. Still, there is always more to learn, always new information to expand our understanding.

Today we went to Yad Vashem to hear and see bits and pieces of the Holocaust to solidify what we had learned, as well as get an even better understanding.

We had the privilege of hearing Reena, a Holocaust survivor, speak about her experiences. I had heard her speak last year and it was wonderful to see and hear her again.

Afterward, we ventured into the museum. Although an obviously grim topic, the curation of the museum blows my mind every time. Every item, every placement conveys the historic and emotional grief tied to the topic.

Walking through the museum after our class and speaker provided us with a deeper level and a deeper understanding of the Holocaust. While I can confidently say that I have a connection to the Holocaust and have learned a great amount, I feel as if I have only scratched the surface.

– Madeline Stull

Thursday, July 16

“Another early morning and late night with an amazing tiyul (class) taking up the time in between. Today was the infamous “Tel Aviv Day,” which lived up to all its hype.

We started the day at the beach where we sat facing the Mediterranean Sea and gazed upon the old city of Jaffa where it all began. We had a proper introduction to the city of Tel Aviv and then made our way into the first neighborhood.

We sat in the main courtyard of Neve Tzedek where we had a fascinating class about the beginnings of the neighborhood. Looking at a place that a group of brave and intelligent people created on a whim as we learned about it is such a crazy feeling.

Afterward, we stopped at a local, homemade ice cream shop where we had a delicious morning treat. Honestly Israel should be the land of delicious ice cream!


Moving on, we walked to Independence Hall where we watched an educational video and then went and sat in the room that the declaration happened in. It’s set up exactly how it was on May 14. 1948.  At the historical spot, we stood with our arms around one another and belted out Hatikvah. To sing the song that everyone sang that historical day in the same place is absolutely moving. I can’t even begin to imagine what the spectators must have felt in that moment.

We then received an assignment where we had to ask local Israelis questions about being Israeli. Where were they from? What would they change? What are the problems? It was fascinating to talk to and interview the locals about their personal beliefs as this HSI (High School in Israel) journey is about creating our own beliefs.

During this free time we had the opportunity to go to the shuk (market) which is always amazing…and such a good place to spend money!

I also have to mention that I had the most delicious pizza I’ve had since I’ve been in Israel at a local Tel Aviv cafe. It was cheesy, and hot and perfect. After a filling meal, we made our way to Rabin Square where we had a class about the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in the place that he was murdered. It was an eerie yet inspirational class.

Now what? More food, of course! We had DOTS (dinner on the streets) and my friends and I decided on a delicious place called Waffle Bar. Perfect choice! Let’s just say some banana split crepes and cappuccino was the perfect way to end a perfect day in the central hub of Israel.

Our assignment for the night was to write an essay on “the ideal Jew” and what that means to us. We had to take a stance and write an opinion on what our idea of an ideal Jew is. It really makes you think. Is Judaism a religion? A lifestyle? A culture? Who defines you as Jewish? Anyone that identifies as a Jewish should ask themselves…what is an ideal Jew? And even more so…do you portray the aspects you believe characterize an ideal Jew? It’s a fascinating idea to think about and even though my essay is long done, I’m sure this is what I’ll be thinking about as I fall asleep.

This amazing experience is beginning to come to a close. But no one should be sad. The opportunities we have had on this program are life changing. I will never hear Hatikvah again without thinking of everywhere we have sang it. Yet, I’m looking forward to sharing these amazing moments and new-found ideas with my friends and family back home.

This experience changes you as a person and gives you the opportunity to share it with others. Who knows? You may change their lives, too.

-Rachael Weinstein

Friday-Saturday, July 17-18

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

My fifth weekend in Israel was incredibly relaxing and refreshing. I did not have anywhere to go on the open weekend, so I decided to stay on campus….and it was an incredibly awesome choice. Only two dorms had open weekend and with so many kids away, it really gave us a chance to bond with the other dorm and hang out with friends in the other dorm, as well.

My friend Emma and I went into town yesterday afternoon where we shopped, ate and bought some delicious food. I am really going to miss the bakeries when I arrive back in the States, they make for a delicious snack any time of day.

We then relaxed for a bit and got all dolled up for Shabbat dinner. The dining hall was set, the blessings said and dinner was served. Our oneg activity involved us “speed dating” the other dorm, which was just us switching people and asking questions.

Afterward, Emma and I devoted this Shabbat as a “movie weekend.” Yes…we did climb into bed with some snacks and watch movie after movie. Just being in Israel, watching a movie and having the ability to look out the window at this beautiful country was amazing. Doing something so normal as watching movies feels different here just because it’s Israel. The kids who went away this weekend should be arriving later tonight and those of us who stayed are taking advantage of a surplus of social time.

We only have one more Shabbat in Israel, which is rather depressing. These next 10 days are about having no regrets once we leave and making the most of every single opportunity we have while we are here!

Our last week is filled with tiyulim and finishing up our curriculum. For the last week, I plan on absorbing as much as I possibly can.

Just being in Israel makes everything better and I can’t express how wonderful it is to have a whole country as our classroom.

– Rachael Weinstein

JFNA Israel mission: Providing job training for the haredi community

Kotel (2)

Esther and Don Schon, 2015 chairs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s annual campaign, and Marty Haberer, chief development officer of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, are currently on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission to Tbilisi, Georgia and Israel. Here, Don Schon reports from the Israel portion of the mission.

What do you do if you are a Haredi scholar in Israel who has set up six kollelim for Haredi to study in and one day realize what you built does not meet the needs of a large number of Haredi men and women? You set about correcting the situation.

At the formation of the State of Israel, 400 men were exempted from the army in order to salvage the field of Torah study. However, that 400 has grown into a large population of ultra-Orthodox with only a  seventh-grade secular education level and minimal job skills. The number of Haredi needing financial assistance and not serving in the IDF is so large it has become disruptive to Israeli society. Recognizing that he had students whose needs were financial and for whom a lifetime of devotional study was not appropriate, he started a new program with JDC (The Joint Distribution Committee or “Joint”).  In this program, women who have teaching degrees that they cannot use (too many ultra-Orthodox woman have trained as teachers and there are not enough jobs for them) are retrained. Men get job skill assessment and skills training at a separate time of day.

In this program, they identify existing skills, teach candidates to write a resume, get them into a program for the Israeli equivalent of a GED, provide job training programs in the private sector and military and help them achieve the dignity of self-reliance and exposure to the rest of Israeli society. After assessment and training, clients qualify for government-subsidized training programs. This program is very careful to train only men and women who seek out the help. This program is also careful to tell clients they do not have to leave their lifestyle and social network to participate.

This and sister programs throughout Israel have trained and obtained employment for 30,000 Haredi men and women and have taken them off the welfare roles while giving them the dignity of self-reliance. After completing the program, the trainee qualifies for government-funded educational and training programs. Thus the cost per client to JDC is only about 250 Federation dollars. These programs, as with most JDC programs, are expected to gradually become self-funded.

Some of these programs have been sponsored by the IDF, which places Haredi men in non-combatant support roles. In one example of a group trained as aircraft mechanics, the secular commander was so pleased with their performance during Operation Protective Edge, that he requested as many Haredi mechanics as he could train.

These programs use JFNA dollars raised in North America. Our sages tell us that Jews are responsible to and for each other and that no Jew should ever be left behind. I think that we can be proud of what we do!

Phoenix community Birthright trip: Caves and camels

Omer Falach and Ean Wilk ride camels. Photos courtesy of Erin Searle

Omer Falach and Ean Wilk ride camels.
Photos courtesy of Erin Searle

The Phoenix Community Taglit-Birthright Israel group left for Israel this week. Erin Searle, director of NOWGen Programs for the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, is leading the 10-day trip for 40 young adults and is reporting from Israel.

Tuesday/July 13

On Tuesday we arrived in Israel around 5:30 a.m. local time after approximately 30ish hours of traveling. Everyone was excited (and tired) to finally arrive in Israel and eager to learn what was on tap for our first day. We left the airport and our first stop was a little forest where we had welcome introductions and a get-to-know-each-other activity. From there, we drove and stopped to refuel our bodies with some snacks and caffeine.

We headed on to the Beit Guvrin Caves where we explored three separate caves. One was used to make olive oil, and one was made for pigeons to nest in. After the caves, we went for lunch where some tried shawarma or falafel for the first time. From lunch, we drove to the Salad Trail, a working farm in the middle of the desert.

Participants in the fourth annual Phoenix community Taglit-Birthright Israel trip visit The Salad Trail, an organic farm in the Negev.

Participants in the fourth annual Phoenix community Taglit-Birthright Israel trip visit The Salad Trail, an organic farm in the Negev. There are 40 participants on this year’s trip and for five days of the trip, they are joined by eight Israelis, seven who are in the army and one in university.

Participants were able to pick fresh carrots and fresh herbs. They also tasted strawberries, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. Our guide introduced the group to different herbs and everyone got some dough to make a little pita bread which they ate with olive oil and zatar. Our first day was fun and everyone was excited to get to Kibbutz Kramim, where we stayed for the night.

Wednesday/July 14

We woke up Wednesday morning and left Kibbutz Kramim and headed to our first hike near Sde Boker, the final resting place of David Ben Gurion. We did a desert hike, that included seeing a tiny waterfall in the desert, before continuing on to see where Ben Gurion was buried and learn a little about him and his vision to see the desert bloom.

In the afternoon we headed to the Bedouin Tents. We started with camel and donkey riding and then participated in an ecological presentation and activity. After a traditional style Bedouin dinner, we had an old-fashioned campfire with singing and s’mores. After a brief sleep, we woke up at 4 a.m. to leave so we could hike Masada in time for sunrise. After touring Masada and hiking back down, we went to Ein Gedi, and then the Dead Sea. We then had a long drive north to Tiberias where we are staying the next few nights.

JFNA Tbilisi mission: No Jew should be left behind

Maya, 88, is one of many seniors in Tbilisi, Georgia, who receives assistance from the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Through Hesed, a JDC program, she receives food and a home health aid. Photos courtesy of Don Schon

Maya, 88, is one of many seniors in Tbilisi, Georgia, who receives assistance from the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Through Hesed, a JDC program, she receives food and a home health aide. Photos courtesy of Don Schon

Esther and Don Schon, 2015 chairs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s annual campaign, and Marty Haberer, chief development officer of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, are currently on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission to Tbilisi, Georgia and Israel. Here, Don Schon reports from the mission.

Organized Jewish life in Tbilisi, Georgia has had some notable successes. We visited an Ashkenazic synagogue that was newly reconstructed to its traditional structure and function with donated local money.

Ashkenazic synagogue

Ashkenazic synagogue

Sephardic synagogue

Sephardic synagogue

They have services, a Hebrew school and daily minyan.

Tbilisi has a Jewish museum, constructed on the grounds of a former synagogue and in the ancient Jewish quarter and with government money and to celebrate its Jewish history.

In addition we visited the grand Sephardic Synagogue, large, maintained and functioning.

Georgian childrenToday we went to camp. The JDC (Joint Distribution Committee) has camp programs throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union. The camp is run by Israelis who come back year after year. For $1,100, a teenager gets two weeks of Jewish camp, where they are taught traditions, history and religious life skills.

We danced, we competed, we “twisted” and we ate with these incredible 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds. They often come from families with Jewish history from one parent or both, but with little Jewish knowledge. Once these kids make the effort to attend some Jewish events, they become eligible for camp. It was a glorious experience.

Marty Haberer

Marty Haberer, chief development officer of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, joins the dance.

Esther buys food for Maya.

Esther buys food for Maya.

Tbilisi also has a Jewish Center which houses Hillel, programs for the elderly, youth programs and Hesed. Through Hesed we met Maya Bartkulashvili. Maya is 88 and home bound. Her family, a product of communist persecution, lived, and Maya still does, in one room. She has no kitchen nor toilet. There is a communal kitchen for six apartments with an old bathtub as the only water source for the building. There is no indoor toilet in the building. The building is from the 19th century, not maintained and with no heat. Maya uses a hot plate for warmth and received disabling burns by tripping on it. Her pension is $66 per month from which she has to buy all she needs. Hesed, a JDC program, shops for her and provides a home health aide. Hesed is able to allot her $40 per month for food. We bought her food, chocolate and a rare delicacy, bananas.

Then we saw the “kids.” Teens performed traditional Georgian Jewish dance in traditional costumes.

Georgian dancers2We watched in amazement as these children from a very poor rural area over an hour away danced their hearts away and then danced with us. All of this is possible because of North American Jewish dollars donated to JDC and the Jewish Agency. We all had tears of joy as we watched the amazing things our dollars do and tears of sadness for all the needs we saw for which no dollars are available.

Jews take care of Jews. No Jew should be left behind as we are responsible to each other. Our Phoenix Jewish community has clearly started these tasks. We help fund these programs big time through our Federation campaign dollars. Esther and I will come home with the determination to take our tasks to the next level.

JFNA Tbilisi mission: Both lightness and darkness

Esther and Don Schon, 2015 chairs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s annual campaign, and Marty Haberer, chief development officer of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, are currently on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission to Tbilisi, Georgia and Israel. Here, Don Schon reports from the mission.

At dinner, we listened to the minister of the interior and the prime minister of Georgia. Georgia’s history is startling and different. At the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia was totally unprepared for independence. In those “dark” years, water was not delivered, electricity was unavailable and there was no economy. Georgia eventually reached out to the West and started to develop. However, one-third of Georgia lives upon less than $3 per day. They had the will to westernize, wipe corruption out of the police, military and government and open their door to immigration in and emigration out.

Georgia has never known significant nor institutional anti-Semitism. Muslims, Christians and Jews live and work together and intermarry. The interior minister spoke lovingly of his mother’s history. Having fallen in love with a Christian and marrying him, she was banished by her extended Jewish family. She allowed her son to be raised Catholic but taught him Jewish traditions and love of Israel.

The prime minister of Georgia spoke next, emphasizing that religious and ethnic bigotry was offensive to Georgian culture. The prime minister, the beneficiary of Jewish patronage and training, spoke with great respect and honor for the country’s Jewish heritage. He then went on to relate the economic needs of Georgia for U.S. investment, military training and their urgent desire for NATO protection against Russia. He was proud that Georgia enabled any Jew who wanted to return to their ancient home to do so. Tens of thousands have done so for economic opportunity and for education.

We also experienced the unique opportunity of a private audience with His Holiness the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church. He related his love for the Jewish people, his respect for their desire to return to their homeland and their contributions to Georgia. He ended by blessing us all and stated that for Georgians, a blessing from a Jew was like a direct blessing from G-d.


The patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church speaks to delegates of the JFNA mission to Tbilisi Photo courtesy of Don Schon

So, we discover a conundrum. Georgia is a country and culture that has a long history of Jewish acceptance and appreciation of our culture and traditions. Yet, the Jewish population has dropped from over 100,000 to less than 10,000 because of the opportunities available in Israel. So we have succeeded with a Zionist program which has depleted the Jewish population from the most accepting culture and country in Eurasia. As with most things in life, there is both lightness and darkness.

Federation mission to Tbilisi, Georgia


Tbilisi, Georgia

Esther and Don Schon, 2015 chairs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s annual campaign, and Marty Haberer, chief development officer of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, are currently on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission to Tbilisi, Georgia and Israel. Here, Don Schon reports from the mission.

We arrived here at 3 a.m., got a few hours of sleep and joined other early arrivals on a bus tour of the vicinity. “Here” is Tbilisi, Georgia. We are on a mission for Federation campaign chairs, staff and presidents and are representing the Phoenix Federation together with Marty Haberer. Tomorrow, we will begin observing programs of the “Joint” or American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Any lingering doubts about making this trip disappeared today in talking to these dedicated volunteers, ages 35 to 70. It is humbling for Esther and me to see how much we are learning from the efforts others have made to create their communities around North America. The Joint is special to us. After World War II, Esther’s Holocaust survivor family received visas to immigrate to the U.S.A. The trip was financed by “The Joint,” as were the costs of getting them settled in Detroit. Without “The Joint,” I would have never met the love of my life 55 years ago at age 13 nor conceived the three incredible kids we have nor watch them as they all become more and more determined to make the world a better place.

Don Schon, center, and his wife, Esther, right, are in Tbilisi, Georgia on a mission with Jewish Federations of North America. Photo courtesy of Don Schon

Don Schon, center, and his wife, Esther, right are in Tbilisi, Georgia on a mission with Jewish Federations of North America. At left is is Lisa, a member of the Federation Young Leadership Council who lives in California. Photo courtesy of Don Schon

Georgia ended 70 years of Soviet domination in 1990. The scars of Soviet architecture litter the landscape. The Georgians are a proud people and exceedingly friendly. However, as we watch the people and the landscape and listen to the bitterness left behind from the Russian occupation, it becomes apparent that this country is only beginning its emergence into first-world status.

We are told that Jews first came here at the time of the Babylonian exile 2,800 years ago. We are also told that anti-Semitism does not exist in Georgia and that the Georgians value their Jewish brothers and sisters. But if that is true, then why has the Georgian Jewish population shrunk from 100,000 to less than 5,000 Jews? We will learn more about this as the trip progresses.

JNF fellows: Exploring Kabbalah and discovering heroes

camelThe five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, all five students reflect on the past week.

Sunday, July 5

As every other day, we learned a lot! However, today was different. Today I learned about the HSI (High School in Israel) community and what it really means. At first, when we all learned that there were over 180 kids, many felt very overwhelmed. But let me just tell you: It’s amazing how fast word travels around here! Both Gabe and Reuben have been challenged with injuries and sad life events and it’s been amazing to watch the entire campus come together. Whether listening to side conversations or watching friends carry pints of ice cream to their doors, it’s so easy to see that we all really are one big family!

Instead of spending my free time deciding what to do, I now focus on figuring out ways to maximize it. I spent the afternoon making new friends in the Rapaport dorm and accompanying them to the local restaurant, Ofer’s. Later, I went to town with a couple of friends. Together, we stopped in every market in town – about eight – buying a few items from each place. Our purchases included: cookie dough ice cream, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, strawberry-banana juice and Cap’n Crunch.

It’s really starting to feel like home. I can’t even begin to think about leaving!

Madyssen Zarin

Monday, July 6

Today we woke up early to go on an exciting tiyul (trip) in the northern region of Israel! We began by learning about the Crusaders, at the beautiful Belvoir castle.

After that, we swam in the Kinneret. It was nice to be back in the lovely waters of the Sea of Galilee. Although it was lovely, I wish I brought shoes! The heat of the ground paired with the sharpness of the rocks was quite painful.

After the brief swim, we headed over to Tzfat, one of my favorite cities in Israel. The beautiful stone paired with the bright colored doors enchanted by the spirituality of the city makes for a great time. Walking around the familiar city, buying jewelry, and showing newcomers my favorite places was nostalgic and fascinating. Additionally, I ran in to someone I know back at home. Crazy!

– Madeline Stull

Tuesday, July 7

This week has been rough one. Sadly, I broke my clavicle while playing football a few days back; however, I’ve still managed to have a fantastic time!

Today was a day to remember. It began with class. Once we finished, we were given the option to stay back and study or go to SACH. SACH stands for Save a Child’s Heart – a nonprofit organization that brings in children from around the world for lifesaving heart operations. I love working and playing with kids, so I decided to take up that option.

EthiopianMany of the children that we played with were from Ethiopia. I spent most of the time playing with my friend Rihad, one of the cutest and most fun kids I’ve ever met. I rolled him around on his little stroller and then played ball with him and some of my other friends.

We got back around six o’clock. I went to dinner and then studied for our upcoming exam.

‘Twas a great day!

– Reuben Nach

Wednesday, July 8

Today we continued studying the early Zionist movements in our core class. But I would like to focus more on the mystical city of Tzfat that we had the privilege of touring a couple days ago. Tzfat is considered to be a mystical city because the Kabbalah was developed there.

Beyond the beauty of the city and surrounding nature, I felt there was a deeper sense of community (kehillah) than in most places we’ve visited. I think that sense of kehillah may derive from the deep studies of Kabbalah. It was interesting to see the other side of questioning our universe from the Jewish perspective.

I appreciated that opposed to Hellenists, Jews focused more on what to do, what is right and what is wrong and how to be truly good people (most Hellenists never would have thought about how to be a good person if it didn’t involve slaves or some other morally iffy pillar of their culture). But I felt a bit disappointed that Jews never got into the truly exciting questions that many Hellenists struggled with. It has always excited me to think about philosophical questions and struggle with competing answers. That feeling of disappointment immediately disappeared after learning more about the Kabbalah.

It was difficult to really understand the Kabbalah from a single half-hour discussion – most Kabbalists study it for half their lives! But while speaking to a local artist, Abraham, I gained a more meaningful understanding.

During my conversation with Abraham I was transfixed upon the largest motif within his art – selflessness. Nearly every work had some representation of giving of yourself for the benefit of others as inspired by the Torah. I had previously learned a little bit about the levels of giving in Judaism, but in discovering the Kabbalah, I gained a far deeper understanding while being provided with even more fascinating questions.
– Gabe Friedland

Thursday, July 9

6:30 a.m.: *knock* *knock* “Boker tov”

We are up and ready for another long day of amazing sights and stories on our next tiyul. Our adventure today is “The Story of the halutzim of the second aliyah.”

It began at Kfar Giladi, where we had class on the roof of the museum of HaShomer (the Guardians). Before we even spoke a word, our teacher had us look out into the distance – both north and south – and to think of adjectives we would use to describe what we saw.

We all collectively wrote down terms such as: picturesque, vast, green, serene, breathtaking, etc. Only then did we begin class and travel back in time to when there was nothing.

After we learned about the brave pioneers who traveled to Am Yisrael from Russia in the years 1904-1914, we went inside the museum and watched the extremely informative videos. We learned about “HaShomer,” the first Jewish defense force and how they had to learn from each other how to defend their people.

From Kfar Giladi, we went and had delicious lunch at a spring. We ate, went swimming, and sat around and listened to Yosef and Phillip play guitar. From there, we had another 40-minute ride to Tiberias, where we had the most powerful class of the day at the Kinneret Cemetery.

cemeteryWe sat around the grave of Rachel the Poetess as we learned about her exemplary life. She was a pioneer who came to the land and then ended up going back to Russia where she helped out in an orphanage. There, she was infected by tuberculosis yet she didn’t know. She came back to Am Yisrael, made a life in the Kinneret, and wrote rather romantic poetry about the beauty and love she has for the Kinneret.

She was quarantined in an apartment in Tel Aviv where she ended up dying but even there she would write poetry based upon the memories she carried with her. After class, Phillip pulled out his guitar, and we sat around the brave pioneer’s grave and sang her beautiful words back to her.

The class gathered in a circle where we all shared who we thought were heroes, anyone we know personally or throughout history. Someone may be a hero in someone else’s eyes by the doing the smallest favor. The biggest heroes seem to be the ones who don’t believe they are. We had DOTS: Dinner on the Streets, where I got some delicious shawarma. Later, we went to a chocolate factory and had some amazing ice cream. There is nothing compared to the ice cream in Israel – it’s beyond amazing and refreshing!

It feels as if I have been here for months yet time is slowly nearing the end. This experience has already been life-changing and has given me memories that I will have for my entire life. Being able to learn our history exactly where it happened is something that everyone should be lucky enough to experience.

– Rachael Weinstein

JNF fellows: Lessons at Masada, Bar Kochba’s caves and a Roman amphitheater

Masada-amphitheaterThe five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. They will share their experience with Jewish News readers through the newspaper’s JN Blog. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, all five students reflect on the past week.

Monday, June 29

This Monday, we got up bright and early to go back to Jerusalem. Our first stop was at my favorite museum, the Israel Museum. There, we learned about the Second Temple times while looking at the world famous model. After learning and seeing the city, we went to it!

In the Old City of Jerusalem we walked around, visited archaeological sites, and learned more about the Roman destruction. Afterwards, we had free time in the Jewish Quarter. My friend Julie and I walked around and visited the markets. It was so cool to see all the merchants and hear the Muslim call to prayer echo throughout the ancient pathways.

Then we took a long bus ride to our hostel in the desert and rested up for our early hike up Masada!

– Madeline Stull

Tuesday, June 30

Tuesday has to be the easiest day to blog about. Last Tuesday, we visited Jerusalem, and today, we toured Masada and the Dead Sea. It is safe to say that so far, our Tuesdays have been action packed!

Our day began at 3:30 a.m. That sounds horrible right? Well, the early wake-up call was well worth the beauty of the sunrise on top of Masada. I’ve honestly never seen anything like the sunrise at Masada. Watching the sun quickly rising over the Jordanian mountains was an unforgettable experience. You know there were some beautiful pictures too!

Before experiencing Masada, I never understood the history behind it all. Now I realize how important Masada was for the Jewish people. From home, I saw Masada as just a beautiful view and a tourist attraction but by learning on top of the mountain, I realized its cultural importance.

The view and learning were fantastic, yet my favorite part was listening to the echo from me and my classmates. Our teacher, Aubrey (Aubs) took us out to a special spot where our echo was particularly loud. We said various chants like, “Am Israel Chai.” At first, our echo surprised me so much, but after we got into it a little more, I realized the beauty in our chants. Aubrey told us that the echo could have been our ancestors from Masada chanting back.

After Masada, we went down to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea! Although the salty water was painful, being in the water was awesome. I’ve never been able to float, so the Dead Sea was an easy place to learn.

– Reuben Nach

Wednesday, July 1

There is something oddly bittersweet about the first day back on campus after a tiyul (trip}. On one hand, it is nice to be back in one’s bed with some familiarity and have a more laid-back and relaxing day. On the other hand, the excitement of a tiyul and the in-depth experiences you can gain cannot be replicated in any classroom. Our last tiyul included a day in the Old City of Jerusalem, while learning about the destruction of the Second Temple and hiking up Masada in time for the sunrise. The bitter part of this morning’s class was not being somewhere where things happened and not being somewhere that symbolizes important principles for Jews. The sweet part was the familiarity of the class and predictability that comes along with it.

After class, the beach! More than 180 Jewish American teenagers descended upon a local beach to try and soak up some sun. Playing Frisbee, swimming with jellyfish, getting stung by jellyfish, and lying in the sun were a great change of pace from campus! It was a great bonding experience to run through the waves and enjoy our vacation on the beach, but the fun didn’t end there. Once we got back, a few friends and I went into town for some shawarma and ice cream. It was so enjoyable to sit outside in beautiful weather eating a delicious chicken shawarma – at that moment; there was no place I would rather have been!

Once back on campus, we were given the opportunity to chill and hang out in the dorm or go to a movie night. While the movie was cut a bit short, it was a fun way to hang out with some friends and relax before bed. It has only been a couple weeks but this has already been my most action packed summer!

– Gabe Friedland

Thursday, July 2

It was a typical day with studying and free time. We woke up bright and early for a cafeteria breakfast and four hours of class. We spent our class time learning more about the history of the Jews and Babylonian exile. It was interesting to compare and contrast the Jews in modern day living outside of Israel, with those in the ancient times living in Babylon.

After lunch, a few of us hopped in a cab and went to Kfar Saba. We started off at the mall, weaving in and out of stores like typical Israeli teens would. Then, we headed to the streets and shopped in the local corner stores. On the way back, I successfully got yelled at by an Israeli taxi driver and managed to squeeze out a few hasty Hebrew sentences. Combining my mediocre Hebrew and Israeli street smarts, I waved over a new taxi and directed him back to campus!

Back at the dorms, we had a group Asefa/discussion. We played a trivia game about Gai and Yosef and learned a ton of fun facts! For example, Gai was a tap dancer and Yosef worked in a pickle factory!

Whether in the classroom or making small talk, we’re always learning something new!”

– Madyssen Zarin

Friday, July 3
Every day here we experience life-long memories and jaw-dropping experiences. Yet, before I talk about today, I just have to talk about a unique opportunity I had yesterday. Back home in Arizona, I have a horse and have been riding practically my whole life. Horses take up the majority of my time and are my biggest passion in life. Here at HSI, the lovely Rona [Rona Melnik, director of operations], offered me a chance to ride while I’m here in Israel. So yesterday, I hopped in a taxi from the beach, and got to train on an Israeli horse. Afterwards, I took the horse on a run through the fields of Israel, surrounded by flowers, as the sun went down. It was an experience and moment that I will never forget.

The students learn at a Bar Kochba cave.

The students learn in a Bar Kochba cave.

As for today, we woke up and went to the Bar Kochba caves. We had a 30-minute class on top of the cave where we learned about the Bar Kochba revolts and what the caves were used for. Then, we entered. The cave was narrow and you have to position your body in a certain way in order to comfortably maneuver. At one point, in the middle of the cave, it opens up to a big room where the entire class went and sat. We turned off all the lights, and in complete and utter silence as we thought about the brave people who lived there, we began to sing “Od Yavoh Shalom Aleinu.” It was such a powerful moment to sing in the memory of the brave ones who fought to keep our religion alive.

From the caves we went and visited a Roman amphitheater. Our teachers re-enacted a battle with each other which was extremely intriguing to the story of why we were there. The girls and guys then played gladiator games and afterwards, we split up into classes. Yes … I got to have class inside a Roman amphitheater! These amazing real-life historical classrooms are what make HSI so magical. Being able to sit in the SAME spot where the story we are discussing happened is something that can’t even be put into words. It gives me such a strong sense of who I am and where I came from. Using Israel as a classroom should be the way everyone learns about Judaism.

We got back from the tiyul and got ready for our July 4th party … Israeli style. We dressed up in red, white and blue and had a stereotypical American dinner of BBQ hamburgers and hotdogs. Afterwards, we played some American “Jeopardy” and then had a dance party. It was really cool to celebrate an American holiday here in Israel. Learning about my Jewish roots this morning and then celebrating my American roots tonight made for another incredible day at AMHSI!

– Rachael Weinstein

Why is everyone still single?

We’ve just received word of an event later this month that will seek to answer the question “Why is everyone still single?”

“The Great Love Debate” will feature “100 of Arizona’s most dynamic single women” and “100 of its most eligible bachelors,” who will sit on opposite sides of the Phoenix Theatre on July 15 for the interactive town hall-style program. Leading experts in the field of dating and relationships will discuss and debate the answer.

The program will be hosted and moderated by Brian Howie, author of “How to Find Love in 60 Seconds.

Panelists include:

Katie Johnson, writer, performer, and Phoenix dating columnist
Katherine Kopa, relationship writer and casting producer ABC’s “The Bachelor”
Mark Owen, founder and president of Events & Adventures, America’s largest singles activities group
Dr. Gary Salyer, an author and the creator of the Safe to Love Again Workshop
Kimberly Seltzer, a dating makeover expert and confidence specialist
Sameera Sullivan, CEO and Lead Certified Matchmaker of Lasting Connections
Leslie Ungar, communication expert and coach and TV host

All tickets must be purchased in advance and are limited to 100 per gender.

Pre-show cocktails begin at 6:30 p.m., the program starts at 7:30 p.m. After the show, there will be a “Meet, Greet, Mix, Mingle and Match” party. Tickets are $40. Click here to register.

Visit GreatLoveDebate.com.

Phoenix is just one stop on “The Great Love Debate” tour. To get an idea of what the program is like, here’s an article written by Kim Calvert of “Sex in the City,” who attended one last year in Los Angeles.