Phoenix community Birthright trip: Caves and camels

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

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

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

Tuesday/July 13

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday/July 14

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

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


JFNA Tbilisi mission: No Jew should be left behind

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

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

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

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

Ashkenazic synagogue

Ashkenazic synagogue

Sephardic synagogue

Sephardic synagogue

They have services, a Hebrew school and daily minyan.

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

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

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

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

Marty Haberer

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

Esther buys food for Maya.

Esther buys food for Maya.

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

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

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

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


JFNA Tbilisi mission: Both lightness and darkness

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

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

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

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

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

Patriarch

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

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


Federation mission to Tbilisi, Georgia

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Tbilisi, Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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


Volunteer abroad opportunities

After writing about Shira James, a Valley occupational therapy student who volunteered in Guatemala through Service for Peace, I checked to see what other volunteer abroad opportunities were available for Jewish young adults. Here is a sampling of the many available programs.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a Jewish humanitarian assistance organization, sends volunteers to help Jews in more than 70 countries around the world. Through the Entwine Jewish Service Corps program, volunteers can sign on for multi-week or one-year programs. JDC is looking for “active, enthusiastic and knowledgeable Jews to serve and live abroad,” according to its website.

The application deadline for this program is Dec. 31, 2013.

For more information and to find out about other JDC programs, visit jdcentwine.org.

Young Jewish adults can also find volunteer travel and learning opportunities through American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a human rights and development organization that “promotes lasting change by providing financial support to local grassroots and global human rights organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.”

For those looking for a shorter commitment, AJWS offers 7-10 day study tours.

Upcoming locations include Senegal, Guatemala and India.

For more information, call (212) 792-2938 or visit ajws.org.

If you’re looking for a taste of Israeli culture, The Kibbutz Program Center offers volunteers ages 19-35 a two and a half to six month kibbutz experience. Duties could include milking cows or making furniture, depending on your placement once you arrive in Israel.

For additional information, call (212) 462-2764 or visit kibbutzprogramcenter.org.

Volunteers for Israel connects Americans to Israel through volunteer service by partnering with civilian and military organizations in Israel. Programs include working with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF); volunteering with Leket Israel, part of Israel’s Food Bank; and living and working with Israel soldiers and other volunteers as part of the Summer International Youth Program for ages 17-25.

Learn more about Volunteers for Israel by calling (866) 514-1948 or visit vfi-usa.org.

For other programs in Israel, contact Shahar Edry at the Israel Center, 480-483-7121, ext. 1109.


Luxury vacation apartments at Herzliya

The Ritz-Carlton decided to make its way to Israel for the first time and is opening luxury vacation apartments — The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton — on the Mediterranean shore of Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv.  The 12-story hotel will be comprise 110 guest rooms and 85 whole-ownership luxury vacation residences.  The mixed-use property was designed by architect Ranni Ziss, while Studio Gaia of New York did the interior design.

The 12-story Ritz-Carlton project at night.

The 12-story Ritz-Carlton property in Herzliya.

Although the residences come in a variety of sizes, every room was inspired by a luxurious marina lifestyle and the designers have made the terraces with beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea a major focus.

“All in all we are offering a superior lifestyle to be delivered by a well-known brand associated with sublime hospitality,” said Miri Azouri, the project director of marketing and sales for The Residences.

A poolside view of the Mediterranean

The Residences’ rooftop swimming pool offers a panoramic view of the Mediterranean.

Just as the outside view of the hotel has an oceanic theme, the interior color scheme complements the views of the Mediterranean. The designers used colors such as beiges, taupes and blues inspired by the sand, sky and sea. Natural woods, stone and leather tiles are being used to create a warm vibe, combined with luxury and comfort.

Guests will be able to enjoy all of the hotel amenities, whether they are a hotel guest or a resident owner. This includes service from the hotel concierge, access to the rooftop swimming pool with a fantastic view of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the option to in-residence dining. As a part of the hotel, The Ritz-Carlton Spa offers a fully equipped gym, a business center and banquet halls to be used for events.

The interior design uses colors that complement the exterior views

The interior design uses colors that complement the exterior views.

 

— Posted by scaputo215 for Melissa Rauch, editorial intern


U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s 20th

For those of us who couldn’t get to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum today (April 29) to commemorate the museum’s 20th anniversary, there is a wealth of information about the museum and today’s events at http://www.ushmm.org.

The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum website features a wealth of material. The museum in Washington, D.C., commemorated its 20th anniversary today (April 29).

The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum website features a wealth of material. The museum in Washington, D.C., commemorated its 20th anniversary today (April 29).


Yad Vashem rescuing personal items from the Holocaust

Pic from Yad Vashem

Stella Knobel, born in Krakow, Poland, received this teddy bear for her seventh birthday. After the outbreak of war, her parents, Anna and Marton, fled with Stella to Soviet territory. After her father joined the Polish Armed Forces in the East, Stella and her mother followed his path to Tehran, and from there, to Eretz Israel. Throughout her travels, Stella’s teddy bear was her constant companion and she recently donated it to Yad Vashem. Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Sunday, Jan. 27 – by opening a new display, “Gathering the Fragments – Behind the Scenes of the Campaign to Rescue Personal Items from the Holocaust.” The exhibit examines the process of collection, research, registration and digitization performed in the framework of the nationwide project to rescue personal Holocaust-related items. The opening event was attended by Holocaust survivors whose personal items are displayed in the exhibition. Since the “Gathering the Fragments” campaign began about two years ago, some 71,000 items have been donated to Yad Vashem, according to the Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem chairman. Only a few of these items are displayed in the exhibition.

This campaign changes a personal or private meaning into a collective meaning, said Estee Yaari, foreign media liaison of Yad Vashem’s Marketing Communications & Media Relations Department during a recent tour of the Jerusalem museum.

Exhibition Curator Michael Tal explained the campaign in a press release: “The majority of items donated to Yad Vashem during the campaign have come via second- or third-generation descendants of the survivors and others who possess items from their families in Europe. Therefore, most of the information we receive about the items is, at best, only partial. The exhibition therefore showcases the research work carried out at Yad Vashem in order to reconstruct the full story behind each item. We are committed to learning as much as possible about everything that comes to us, and to sharing new insights with the greater public.”

Yad Vashem, in cooperation with the National Heritage Program at the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry for Senior Citizens, launched the “Gathering the Fragments” campaign in 2011. Since then, a great variety of documents, certificates, diaries, photographs, artifacts and artworks from the Holocaust era that were in the homes of private individuals in Israel have been given to Yad Vashem for safekeeping.

The entrance to the new Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum. Photo by Leisah Woldoff

Yad Vashem is still collecting original documentation and artifacts from the prewar, Holocaust and immediate postwar period to submit them to the museum for safekeeping. They will be added to the Yad Vashem collection, conserved, cataloged and digitized for easy universal access. To learn more about donating items,  email collect@yadvashem.org.il.

Those who haven’t been in Israel since 2005 should be ready for a whole new experience. The new Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum opened in March of that year and the new facility reflects the many changes that have occurred  in society since the Knesset established the museum in 1953, said Yaari. The new museum is four times larger, uses more technology and shifts the focus from German archives to survivors’ points of view. There are nine galleries and many include videos of survivors’ testimonies. When the museum first opened, many survivors were not yet comfortable sharing their experiences, Yaari explained.

According to the museum, about 1 million people visit Yad Vashem from all over the world each year, the most of any tourist destination in the country.