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


Federation’s interfaith mission to Israel

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Charlotte Raynor, pictured here in the Galilee, recently participated in the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s Business Leaders Mission to Israel. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix

The Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix  hosted a business leaders mission to Israel  from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1. One of the participants, political activist Charlotte Raynor, shares her impressions from the trip:  

The last time I thought I understood what was going on with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was in fifth grade. I wrote a report for school entitled “How It All Began.” I don’t remember what my thesis was, but since I hadn’t revisited the topic as an adult, I jumped at the chance to participate in the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix Community and Business Leaders Mission to Israel.

It was an interfaith mission designed to give “an understanding of Israel both from an historical and modern-day perspective.”

We started in Tel Aviv with the insights of social historian Paul Liptz, who is on the faculty of Tel Aviv University:

  • 75 %of Israel’s population of 8.4 million (think the population of New York City) is Jewish, most having been born in Israel.
  • 21% of Israel’s population is Arab.
  • 4% are immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia, and other countries.

That mix, taken together with Israel’s unique isolation in the Middle East, has fostered a willingness to take risks, to innovate; and has led to a sense among Israelis that they can make a difference and have an impact on their small and striving society.

We met with innovators in business and technology, and visited so-called incubators or accelerators where Israelis who have an idea for a start-up for a business can find mentors, advisers, work space and encouragement.

The most interesting incubator to me was in Jerusalem at an organization called PresenTense (Presentense.org). It works with social entrepreneurs – those who have an idea for a business or project that will “enrich communal life, grow local economies and solve critical issues facing society.” This is essentially an incubator for tikkun olam, with an emphasis on inclusion and diversity as an added value.

Immigrants, Haredi women, Arab Israelis and others may apply to the program with a proposal for a project to meet a need in their communities. They complete a course curriculum, meet with mentors, and refine their proposals. Even if, at the end, their proposed project is amended or does not attract start-up funding, the participants have gained valuable skills in social entrepreneurship. They are empowered to try, try again.

The other mission highlight for me was visiting the (Shimon) Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. We met with Yarden Leal-Yablonka, who described efforts that I think of as “actionable peace.” Most of the Center’s staff of 33 are project managers who are out in the field helping Israelis and Palestinians to come together, and work together to accomplish something or to meet a need. Leal-Yablonka says these are always projects suggested by the people affected by them, not imposed by well-meaning outsiders. The shared experience of identifying a problem and working toward a solution could be considered “peace education” for Arabs and Jews.

With children, the Peres Center does its work through sports programs. At first, Israeli and Palestinian children are introduced to “the other” via Skype so they can get acquainted first without face-to-face confrontation.

When the kids get together for games, they use the fair play method, rather than using a referee. The learning experience is in teamwork, sportsmanship, and fair play.

My thought is that whatever is happening at the political level, Arab and Israeli kids have concrete experiences with each other that could grow peace.

After learning about some of the projects of the Peace Center, we were able to view some of the letters, documents and photographs from the Shimon Peres archives. One was a quote from Peres which I think sums up the prospects for peace:

“I don’t know if it’s possible, but it is interesting.”


Thankfulness is not just once a year

Guest blogger Rabbi Irwin Wiener of Sun Lakes Jewish Congregation offers some thoughts in advance of Veterans Day, which is next Wednesday, Nov. 11, and Thanksgiving, which this year is on Thursday, Nov. 26.

Each year, at this time, we pause for two major events in our lives as Americans: Thanksgiving and Veterans Day. These two holidays, each in their own way, offer the same expressions of gratefulness and appreciation. And, each year, I draw special attention to them because, all too often, we neglect to remember how these holidays affect our lives.

When we lose someone who has devoted his or her energy to the safety and survival of our American way of life, or see the list of wounded increase with each passing day, we pause to thank them for their participation in ensuring our safety and survival.

Those who wear the uniform of this great country represent our freedom. More than that they remind us of the vigilance needed to remain a nation of tolerance and an example to the world. It is no different for those who have, but no longer, carry the banner, those who have served and now continue to remain proud of that commitment.

Our history as a nation is replete with stories of valor and fortitude. Blood has been shed, not only here, but also on foreign soil, with the understanding that liberty and freedom require sacrifice. Sacrifice, at times, requires the ultimate sacrifice. There are no barriers or boundaries when searching for the opportunity to breathe free.

On Nov. 11, we will once again devote our attention to the members of our armed forces, both past and present. How I wish that we could and would remember them every day of the year. Our diversity is a testament to the contributions made every day and every night.

Right here, in the Valley, we see this effort in action. Our veterans are living examples of goodness and allegiance. Their untiring efforts in behalf of all veterans, regardless of race, color, creed or religion, sets a standard that illustrates their commitment to the ideals for which they served.

It is fitting that this time has been set aside because, in our pursuit of daily activities, we tend to forget. Patriotism seems to be relegated to memory.

As we honor our veterans, we also commemorate a holiday designed to remind us of the sacrifices made by the generations — Thanksgiving. These two celebrations give us pause to reflect on our good fortune and to express our thanks to a great country. Just look around the world — so many people clamoring to be free and live in societies that are accepting and free from the crippling elements of war.

We certainly are not perfect, but that does detract from the good we do. Nor does it diminish the response we offer when there is a need that requires our resources. This country was founded on the principle of inclusiveness.

Thankfulness is about recognizing the wonders we witness, the magic we bring to the world and the fulfillment we represent to others. To me, the most significant aspect of these commemorations is a simple word — hope.

Thankfulness should not be just once a year. Thankfulness requires understanding. Thankfulness should be part of us all the days of our lives. Then, we will truly pay homage to all who represent the goodness known as America.


Trade mission exceeds expectations

Guest blogger George Weisz, president of Weisz Ventures and one of the members of the first Arizona trade mission to Israel, submitted the following after the trip concluded. (Weisz’s first person account of the earlier part of the trip, “Gov. Ducey visits Israel,” Jewish News, Oct. 16, is available here.) 

The second half of Gov. Doug Ducey’s Arizona trade mission to Israel was as amazing as the first portion. He engaged in extensive meetings with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former President Shimon Peres; four Cabinet ministers; numerous Israeli start-ups; Wendy Singer, whose foundation Start-Up Nation Central continues the synergetic vibe of the book “Start-Up Nation”; water resource experts; and the developers of Iron Dome. Most importantly, the governor signed a letter of intent with the Israeli government to foster collaborative partnerships between Arizona and Israel which will lead to tremendous opportunities for Arizonans and our state’s economic growth. This first-ever Arizona trade mission to Israel, the vision of this governor, exceeded expectations.

The delegation witnessed “the miracle that is Israel.” The whirlwind itinerary was exhilarating as, around every corner, we saw more and more applications that could benefit Arizona. We were able to capture the true spirit of Israelis who manage to excel in so many areas, yielding more patents and more start-ups per capita than any other nation except the U.S. The contributions that Israelis make to the world in medicine, water management, agriculture, education, energy, homeland security and technologies of so many disciplines is unmatched.

It was not lost upon the delegation that Israel accomplishes all this while living in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world with rockets from Hamas and Hezbollah pointed at its homes and schools along with the repeated threat of real annihilation from Iran. We had a detailed, sobering briefing with Dore Gold, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who noted the increasing build-up of terrorist activities along most of Israel’s borders and the challenges to survival that Israel faces every day.

We were in Israel at a time when innocent Israelis lost their lives to sporadic terrorist attacks, and many others were injured, with Palestinians clearly being incited by their leaders to specifically spill Israeli blood. We had just left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has very special meaning to the governor and is a place one can feel such awesome spirituality no matter what one’s religion or culture. As our delegation was walking up the steps from the cavern of Muslim shops to the Jaffa Gate, four plainclothes Israeli police officers ran down the stairs past us to a site across the Old City, where a terrorist had just stabbed an Israeli police officer. Soon thereafter, Israeli authorities closed the Old City for an hour, a rare occurrence. While we were in Israel, 23 attacks occurred resulting in eight Israelis being murdered and 70 wounded. It reminded us of the Israeli adage: “If terrorists put down their weapons, there will be peace. If Israel puts down its weapons, there will be no Israel.”

The hearts of our delegation were deeply hurt as we heard of the escalating violence. We recognized that in addition to the precious lives that were lost, the terrorist leaders were also trying to damage Israel’s vibrant tourism industry from which many Israelis and Palestinians derive their living. Yet, we felt safe wherever we traveled within Israel, and safer than in some American cities. We found a nation whose people stayed vigilant every day while at the same time producing medical discoveries that were saving lives around the world. This was a society that was also intent on preserving the historic sites of all religions.

These terrorist attacks only strengthened the governor’s desire to show support for Israel, now more than ever. He has urged other national and state leaders to join him in that support. During our trip, he continuously received gratitude from both Israeli officials and average citizens, including servers at restaurants and start-up company workers, who stopped to thank him and his delegation for being in Israel and demonstrating our unwavering support.

One of those appreciative leaders was Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed to the governor his desire to strengthen ties with Arizona and build on a close, respected relationship that the prime minister has appreciated for years with Sen. John McCain, a true friend of Israel and one of the world’s top leaders in foreign policy.

Seeing thru the tears of a grieving nation, we witnessed a boundless optimism that was mesmerizing. No one exuded that optimism more than Shimon Peres, with whom the governor spent considerable time at the Peres Center for Peace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. When we arrived, there were young adults with a certain vibrancy working on projects that bring Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians together. The center also initiates cooperative projects around the world, including a water project with Mexico to which the governor offered his assistance. When he asked the dapper and inspirational Peres for his secret to staying so young, Peres provided us with his clearly effective philosophy: “Count your achievements. Then count your dreams. If your dreams are more than your achievements, then you are young.” And, he added: “Don’t dream small; dream great!”

Peres expressed those sentiments again, a few days later, when he shared the podium with the governor at the opening session of Israel’s International Water Technology and Environmental Control Conference (WATEC). He had been invited by the Israeli government to speak at the conference because Arizona, like Israel, has a history of success in formulating good water policy. While Arizona stays concerned over its water resources and has eyes wide open on its challenges, it is clear that Arizona is far ahead of managing its resources than California which warranted its own session at WATEC that showed the tremendous struggles it is experiencing. Ducey, accompanied by the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, attended several of the sessions and met with water technology innovators, who are breaking new ground on preserving the quantity and quality of water supplies.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arie Dery, Israel's economic minister (right), sign a letter of intent initiating cooperative partnerships between Arizona and Israel in a variety of disciplines. Photo by George Weisz

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arie Dery, Israel’s economic minister (right), sign a letter of intent initiating cooperative partnerships between Arizona and Israel in a variety of disciplines.
Photo by George Weisz

While at WATEC, the governor met with Arie Dery, Israel’s minister of the economy, and the two leaders signed a Letter of Intent between Arizona and Israel initiating plans for a joint partnership to cooperate together in mutual ways for the benefit of both Arizonans and Israelis. This historic agreement will lead to active joint efforts in a host of disciplines and the sharing of information and best practices.

Seeking out collaborative opportunities was the theme of a very productive meeting with Nancy Singer, a former AIPAC staff member, who now heads Start-Up Nation Central. Nancy’s brother, Dan Senor, co-authored the acclaimed book “Start-Up Nation,” which tells the story of the innovative spirit of the Israeli people. At a Republican Governors Association conference this past year, Senor gave the governor a copy of his book. This inspired the governor to explore how the principles outlined in the book could be applicable to enhancing the prosperity of Arizonans. As he frequently says: “With Israel as the Start-Up Nation, Arizona should be the Start-Up State.”

Singer showed our delegation the various pathways to partnering with start-ups, entrepreneurs and investors in Israel who are looking to branch out to the United States and invest time and resources at American locations where visions are result-oriented and business-friendly. Throughout our meetings with various Israeli companies, the governor was adamant in his message that “Arizona is open for business” and his particular desire to lure Israeli technology, resources and know-how to Arizona. He brought Arizona experts – including Arizona Commerce Authority CEO Sandra Watson, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer and Phoenix Greater Economic Council President Chris Camacho – to Israel to accompany him in these meetings. Having them with him, the governor wanted to immediately start an action plan.

He also met with Silicon Valley Bank, which took a contingent of investors to Israel to validate the economic successes outlined in “Start-Up Nation.” Silicon Valley Bank has a large presence in Arizona with its expansion greatly assisted by the Arizona Commerce Authority. Yes, they validated Israel’s innovative, prosperous atmosphere.

The Arziona trade delegation visits an Iron Dome placement. Photo by George Weisz

The Arizona trade delegation visits an Iron Dome placement.
Photo by George Weisz

One highlight of the trip was a visit to an Iron Dome Missile Defense placement north of Gaza. A young but extremely able IDF officer showed us the system that is saving both Israeli and Palestinian lives. IDF officers manning these systems have 4 seconds to determine if an Iron Dome interceptor needs to be launched against a terrorist rocket. Raytheon in Tucson is a partner with Rafael, the Israeli company that developed this amazing technology. We toured Rafael’s manufacturing headquarters in northern Israel, which is currently building David’s Sling, the newest missile defense system, along with more Iron Dome units and other defense systems. David Orr of Raytheon in Tucson, a former fighter pilot, was a member of our delegation.

Defense contractors are a major component of Arizona’s economy, and the governor was on the lookout for projects and applications for these companies. One must remember that of the security and military aid that the U.S. provides each year to Israel, over 75 percent of those funds come back to the U.S. in purchases from American companies. No other nation returns that much to the U.S. Essentially, security aid for Israel means more jobs for Arizonans. Right now, Israel will be asking for funds to produce more Iron Dome units, a project that has proven its success in saving lives time and time again. It will be up to all of us to lobby Congress to approve that vital request.

Border security is a priority of the governor and many Arizonans. We visited an Israeli company that has developed new virtual-border-fence technology that is now being installed in Arizona on the U.S.-Mexico border. Eventually, over 200 miles along our border will have coverage from this state-of-the-art detection technology. Delegation member Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, reviewed this company’s newest technology along with homeland security advancements offered by other Israeli firms. The delegation also promoted the idea that such firms should bring manufacturing or research offices to Arizona.

We also tried to recognize operations in Israel that have Arizona investors. Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall led us for lunch to the new Hotel Yehuda atop the Massuah Hills, a designer hotel with banquet facilities owned by Diamondbacks team partner Jeff Royer. Jeff will be glad to know that the governor, Derrick, Danny Seiden and West Coast Capital Partners co-founder Bill Metzler ran off part of that lunch, as well as a Shabbat dinner, when they led most of the delegation on a jog around the 2.5-plus-mile circumference of the walls of the Old City.

The governor also took note of the excellent relationships that Arizona cities have established with Israeli cities in the Sister Cities Program, such as Phoenix’s great relationship with Ramat-Gan, just north of Tel Aviv.

This article only touches the tip of the iceberg of a very aggressive agenda set forth by the governor and his staff, including Kirk Adams, Danny Seiden and Sara Mueller. Some of our encounters were set up by Israel Consul General David Siegel, who took valuable time to travel with us. The many meetings and contacts were designed to produce results and deliverables that will produce short-term and long-term benefits for Arizonans.

The meetings were peppered with experiences to enhance one’s understanding of the heritage of the people of this holy land, a place that was, in many ways, the center of the world thousands of years ago and the center still today. The delegation learned about the spirit and ingenuity of those who have had no choice but to invent, devise and develop amazing things in order to survive. It learned that, as Shimon Peres mentored us, one does not need a lot of land to be great, one just needs a great mind.

I was privileged to be a member of this historic delegation that was expertly led by Gov. Doug Ducey, who had a tremendous grasp of the issues and who wore his love for Israel and his pride of Arizona on his sleeve and in his heart. He represented all of us very well. You can be very proud of his initiative to bring Arizona and Israel closer together, a natural fit in so many ways, to enhance the economic prosperity for all Arizonans.


JNFuture: Inviting young adults to help make the desert bloom

Jennifer Starrett, Jewish News’ marketing manager, writes about her Israel experience with the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission:

I grew up in what I consider a very Jewish household. I celebrated Shabbat with my family, went to Hebrew school and was always taught the value of tzedakah. However, even though I grew up knowing the importance of Israel for myself and my family, I never felt a connection to the land as a young teenager.

Neither my parents nor my grandparents had been to Israel, and my Birthright trip as a young college student was my first dose of what Israel was all about. During my second visit as part of a volunteer vacation, I met my husband and found even more reasons to love Israel. Yet, it wasn’t until this past August while on the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission in Israel (JLIM) that I truly found my connection and passion.

Halutza - JLIM 2015

JLIM 2015 participants visit Halutza, a growing farming community near the Israel/Gaza border in the northwest Negev. Photo courtesy of JNF

Before I went on the trip, I knew very little about the work that Jewish National Fund does. Like many people growing up, I remember the blue tzedakah boxes and received certificates for trees planted in my honor during my bat mitzvah and wedding. I realized this summer that JNF does more than just raise funds and plant trees; they build communities and help connect even more people to the land of Israel through their own programs and partnerships. In five days, we saw just a fraction of the impact JNF has had on the land of Israel, but what was even more inspiring was the potential for even more great projects and partnerships that have yet to be started.

This new playground in Be'er Sheva was a Jewish National Fund project.

This new playground in Be’er Sheva was a Jewish National Fund project. Photo by Jennifer Starrett

We saw small communities being built next to the border of Israel and Gaza where young families were able to learn how to farm and build their own land and businesses. In the Central Arava, we saw a medical center that was built with JNF funds, but envisioned by the people in neighboring communities because they were worried that the two-hour drive to the nearest hospital would deter people from moving to the area. In Be’er Sheva, a town that formerly had 2,500 residents, we saw a newly built, beautiful river park that has made the area into a thriving city, home to almost 200,000 people.

On JLIM, we also had the opportunity to meet the people JNF has touched. We heard from students at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), who traveled from all over the world including countries like Nepal and Vietnam to learn about the latest in agricultural techniques that they could take back home to their own communities. The impact that this school has had on students has gone far beyond teaching techniques and new methods of farming, but has also given them the ability to be advocates for Israel and the Israeli people once they return home.

We met with people who made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh, a partner organization of JNF, who made the choice to live in the Central Arava and learn to farm and create communities from the ground up. Only about 3,300 people live in this area that is approximately 6 percent of Israel’s total land mass. These residents are truly pioneers building formerly unoccupied parts of Israel into prosperous and lively cities.

By the end of the trip, my head was racing. There is so much that JNF has already done, and yet, there is potential for growth and exciting new projects and partnerships. I came back from this trip with more of an understanding for what past generations saw when they first began to build the Jewish state of Israel. As a member of JNFuture, the young professional division of JNF, I am excited to share with my generation a glimpse of what they can be a part of as a member of JNF and JNFuture. Together we can make the desert bloom.

JNFuture is holding its Arizona Fall Kickoff next week. Here are details:

JNFuture Arizona Fall Kickoff
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13
Where: ASU Kerr Cultural Center, 6110 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Cost: Free event, but registration is encouraged at jnf.org/azkickoff
Learn more about the JLIM 2015 trip and how to get involved as a JNFuture member.
Hors d’oeuvres will be served (dietary laws observed).


You Did Not Win: Reflections on My Relationship with a Holocaust Survivor

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Guest blogger Shauna Stein, right, received the Sonia Minuskin Award for Graduate Scholarship from Minuskin’s son Harold Minuskin, center, and Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, director of Arizona State University’s Jewish Studies Program, left, on April 27. Photo courtesy of Shauna Stein

Guest blogger Shauna Stein is president of the Jewish Law Student Association at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and participated in the first cohort of the Valley Beit Midrash Jewish Leadership Corps. This piece was written Sept. 22, just before Yom Kippur.  

As I write this piece, it is the eve of Yom Kippur. Earlier this afternoon, I received an email from Harold Minuskin, a Holocaust survivor. He informed me that the Polish government recently announced that former Jewish citizens of Poland who survived the Holocaust would be eligible for a small pension for the valuables and property their families lost during that period. To qualify, you must prove that you lived in Poland during the Holocaust. Harold relayed to me that he has applied, since he has about four Polish documents that prove that his family members were in or near their hometown of Zhetel (Zdenciol in Polish) from 1937 to 1945.

Harold has been sending me several thought-provoking materials since I first met him. Harold encourages me to continue my scholarship on this topic.

Though this article triggers many emotions and thoughts, I am choosing to write about an important cognitive strength that my correspondence with Harold Minuskin has taught me over the course of the summer: the power of wanting to live and the power of a positive outlook on life.

My relationship with Harold Minuskin began at the end of April when he read a piece that I had written for a law school course on moral leadership. I wrote about Tuvia Bielski and other Jewish partisans who exhibited great perseverance and other leadership strengths during the Holocaust. (Tuvia Bielski’s character was played by Daniel Craig in the 2008 movie,  “Defiance.”)

Harold survived the Holocaust because of the great perseverance of his mother, Sonia Minuskin, and other Jewish partisans led by Hershel Kaplinsky in the Lenin Atriad in Nazi-occupied forests. It was a true and complete honor when Harold awarded me with a scholarship, in honor of his mother.

Harold attended the scholarship reception with his wife. He carried a big brown box, printed with my name in red Hebrew letters, and tied with string. The box was filled with books on the Holocaust. Shortly after I received my award, Harold whispered to me, “Now is your chance to ask questions. I will be having heart surgery soon.”

I felt a huge responsibility to help spread education about the Holocaust. All these months, I had an opportunity to write more about a topic I feel passionately about, yet I did not begin writing until this very moment. Honestly, however, I also felt overwhelmed. I selfishly thought to myself, “I have no time and I don’t even know where to start. I have law school finals, an internship starting soon, a clinic, summer school, etc.”

During the summer, however, I had an opportunity to read the book that Harold translated on behalf of his mother. He told me how awful he felt that his mother was never able to see the finished product, or see the book published. He relayed to me that it was too emotionally painful to relive all those memories and that he blamed himself for not working through it faster.

As I read the book, I realized what an amazing hero Harold’s mother was, and how Harold’s mother never really received recognition for what she did.

Harold’s mother had two little babies, Harold and his little brother. No one wanted Harold’s mother to hide with them, and no peasants were willing to hide her with two little baby boys, at the risk that their crying might give away their hiding place to the adversaries. I cannot even begin to imagine what agony Harold’s mother went through, and what great internal conflicts she had within herself. In her memoirs, Harold’s mother recounts how peasants thought she was crazy yelling at herself when she struggled with the decision to not abandon her babies, who were so eager to live. She said that what kept her going was seeing the desire to live in her babies’ eyes, when they stared at her. Quite simply, it was perseverance and the desire to live that kept them going.

Harold said the following to me, which gave me shivers:

“Just imagine that you are all alone with two very young children. You are trying to hide and escape from people that want to kill you because you are a Jew. You only have the clothing you are wearing. Even non-Jews who have known your family for many years shun you because they fear for their lives. No one is willing to help, to provide scraps of food or water.”

At one time, Harold’s mother wanted to give away her infant son to nuns. She thought to herself, “At least, one of us will survive if he is raised as a Christian child.” However, Harold’s mother changed her mind and was committed to survival. Essentially, failure was not even an option in her mind.

At that point, Harold’s mother had already witnessed the slaughter of most of her family and friends. Harold’s mother and her two boys were now in the ghetto where there was hunger and death all around them. The Germans created an atmosphere of death and reprisals for the slightest offense.

One example written in Harold’s mother’s memoirs is when the Jews of Zhetel were standing in line to give up their valuables. One Jewish woman was arbitrarily selected by one of the German guards. She was accused of withholding some valuables. Of course, this was not true. Nevertheless, the German guard persisted that the woman was holding back some of her family’s valuables. No amount of pleading would help this poor woman. The German guard pulled out his pistol and shot her in view of the rest of the Jews who were standing in line. Thus, the Germans continuously created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

Writing this simply gives me goose bumps. We have so many frivolous things that we worry about in life. Harold survived and is here with us today because for days his mother, his brother and grandmother and other family members hid underneath a toilet behind their house. Harold’s father was smart enough to dig a deep hole underneath the toilet, as he knew that the sophisticated German soldiers would not want to look under a toilet. When Harold and his brother were dehydrated and thirsty as they were hiding there, Harold’s mother moistened Harold’s lips and Harold’s little brother’s lips with urine from their grandmother.

Harold spent the first several years of his life in the forest. Harold’s mother wrote in her memoirs that the Soviet Partisans would spend time with the little boys because it would bring them joy to remember their own families. When the Soviet Partisans would ask the little boys what a bicycle was, the little boys would point to a squirrel. Their lives were so far removed from the society they once knew.

I am only touching upon a hair of what happened, or the small amount of what I heard from my encounters with Harold. After the war, Harold, his brother and his parents returned to their home. It was used as an office for German soldiers during the war. None of their valuables, furniture or clothes remained in the home. One time, Harold’s mother even saw a fellow villager wearing her scarf that was taken from her home during the war.

Anti-Semitism still persisted. Harold’s parents engaged in the black market to make ends meet, and the surrounding villagers  coveted their earnings. Harold’s family ultimately immigrated to the United States, and they resided in New York. Harold’s family would attend social events with Tuvia Bielski (the man, who initially inspired me to write about moral leadership during the Holocaust) and his family. Harold also sent me a picture of his cousin who had a picture taken with Bielski.

During our correspondence, Harold told me that during the later years when they lived in New York, his mother never missed a party. He told me, “She was the life of the party. She enjoyed herself as if to make up for all the bad years. Despite everything, my mother had a positive outlook on life.”

I think that Harold’s mother passed on a very positive quality to her son. A few weeks ago, Harold sent me an email that brightened my day. He wrote: “It has been a little over 3 months since my open heart surgery… I forced myself to begin walking, 1/2 mile each day at first. Now I am up to 1 mile each morning… When I was discharged I looked like one of the ghetto people; I had lost lots of weight. Now, I am gaining back at the rate of about 2 lbs each week. I should be good as new in another 3 months.”

With all this being said, why did Harold’s email today compel me to write this piece?

I think that the important takeaway is for the world to know that time and time again, wicked people have tried to wipe out, destroy and obliterate the Jewish religion, race, people and culture. However, at the end of the day, one thing is certain. They have not obstructed our desire to live, our commitment to living life and to all of life’s possibilities. We still clutch to our identities and we still fight for our rights. Moreover, the struggles of our ancestors made us stronger and made us persevere.

Essentially, these wicked people did not win. They lost the game.

I am forever thankful for what Harold has taught me. Harold has taught me to embrace life and to encourage others to think about concepts that might be difficult to acknowledge.

May you be inscribed in the book of life, this eve of Yom Kippur.