Winner of ‘Inspired by Israel’ contest

The Israel Video Network has announced the winner of the “Inspired by Israel” contest sponsored by The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.

The video, by Sivan Felder, is described as “a poetic look at our connection to Israel and her significance, through the eyes of a teenage olah chadasha.”

A total of $20,000 in cash prizes were awarded to the winning videos—including a $8,000 grand prize to Sivan Felder and Batsheva Shachnovitz for their video, “Olah Chadasha (New Immigrant),” a poetic exploration of a teenager’s journey in Israel after making Aliyah five years prior. During a 10-day period of public voting, entries in this year’s competition received more than half a million views in 236 countries.

The Israel Video Network launched the “Inspired by Israel” video contest in March 2017 in partnership with the Milstein Family Foundation. Here’s the video:

Vote for your favorite Israel video

The “Inspired by Israel” video contest has started its 10-day period of online voting to determine which 10 video entrants will move on to the final phase of the contest and be evaluated by an elite panel of judges. Last year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world voted.

More than 80 individuals and groups entered the contest by creating videos that entertain, educate and inspire people about Israel. A total of $20,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the winning videos, including an $8,000 grand prize.

Some examples of video titles are: “The Israeli heart and mind just transformed the lives of 1 million Africans forever”; “One Million Reasons You Should Love Israel”; “An anti-Semite visits Israel and discovers something completely shocking”; “If you thought the world could exist without Israel, you’re about to be proven wrong” and “Israel: A Light in the Storm.”

Following this period of public voting, which ends on March 29, the top 10 prizes will be selected by a panel of independent experts, including philanthropist Gila Milstein, Jewish Journal/Tribe Media President David Suissa and StandWithUs Israel Executive Director Michael Dickson. The winners will be announced on April 30.

Hosted on, the contest is sponsored by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation in partnership with the 12Tribe Films Foundation.

Click here to view the videos and vote.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




AMHSI: Shabbat in Jerusalem

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

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

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

Me on a thing at the park:

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:

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

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.


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?


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.


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


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

Program gives iPads to every special education teacher in Israel


Uri Ben-Ari, left, founder and president of the Athena Fund, gives an iPad to a special education teacher in the city of Lod. Photo courtesy of the Athena Fund

Israel’s Athena Fund has announced a new program: iPad for Every Special Education Teacher in Israel.

Through the new program, about 10,000 special education teachers in Israel will receive iPad computers with specialized software and applications for students with special needs and various disabilities. Each teacher also will receive 120 hours of training. The program will enable students with special needs to communicate with their teachers, while training them to integrate into society, according to a press release from the Athena Fund.

The new program was launched in two cities in central Israel with a mixed population of Jews and Arabs – Ramla (72,000 residents) and Lod (74,000 residents) – and in the Circassian town of Kfar Kama (3,142 residents), located in the north.

This is Athena’s fourth program. The first – Laptop Computer for Every Teacher in Israel – was launched in 2006, the second – Laptop for Every Kindergarten Teacher in Israel – was launched in 2012, and the third – Tablet for Every Teacher of Science and Technology in Israel – was launched in 2014.

The decision to launch the iPad for Every Special Education Teacher in Israel program was made after the positive results of an iPad usage study were reported by special education teachers and students in two schools in the city of Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv. The  iPad enabled special education teachers and students to engage in meaningful learning. Access to the iPad was immediate, intuitive and led to enjoyment and motivation. The use of iPads resulted in challenging and rewarding learning and strengthened students’ motivation. In addition, the iPad improved interpersonal communication, and students with high-level thinking and comprehension skills were discovered. The iPad opened a window to the inner world of students with special needs, and helped improve student performance and quality of life.

In addition, the use of the iPad in the two schools in Rishon LeTzion substantially changed students’ lives. Interpersonal communication at home was also enhanced. Children who previously found it difficult to communicate with family and teachers expressed their feelings and desires by writing on the iPad. Significant improvement occurred also in motor skills and hand-eye coordination of children with special needs. Students fully completed tasks that they could not complete before. The iPad and the special applications also allow students with physical disabilities to cope better with their difficulties.

“Improving the teaching of students with special needs and their inclusion in society is a valuable contribution to the students, their families and the country,” said Uri Ben Ari, president and founder of the Athena Fund, in the release. “The contribution of iPads to special education teachers will enable them to help students fulfill their potential. Leveraging advanced technology will help reduce educational gaps, make various teaching materials more accessible and strengthen the social skills of students with special needs.”

The Athena Fund is a nonprofit organization established in 2006 in order to promote the empowerment of teachers in Israel by providing them with tools for self-fulfillment and professional advancement. The fund was founded by several prominent business leaders under the direction of  Ben-Ari (CEO of UBA Ventures and former executive vice president of Ness Technologies). The fund’s flagship initiative is the innovative Laptop Computer for Every Teacher in Israel program. This program has so far distributed laptops to over 11,000 teachers in 939 schools and kindergartens in 430 towns, cities and small communities in regional councils, together with professional training courses. The program’s goal is to provide a laptop computer and 120 hours of professional training to every teacher in Israel by 2018.

Federation’s interfaith mission to Israel


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 ( 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.”

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.