JNF’s work with modern pioneers

After a group of 30 families was evacuated from their homes during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, they moved into a remote corner of the northwest Negev that borders Egypt and became modern-day pioneers.

In the years that followed, with help from Jewish National Fund, they transformed the desert into communities with organic farmlands.

Yedidya Harush was 17 when his family left his home in the community of Atzmona in Gush Katif  to start a new life in the Negev. He is now the JNF Halutza-Bnei Netzarim liaison for Negev Community Development and he is in the Valley this week to let the Phoenix Jewish community know about the Jewish communities being developed in Halutza. (Halutza is Hebrew for “pioneer.”)

He is speaking tonight about “Developing Communities in the Negev” at a JNF event in a private home and will also speak tomorrow night at a Valley Eruv Project screening of “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front,” 7:30 p.m. at Ahavas Torah: the Scottsdale Torah Center, which is presented in conjunction with the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival and several Valley Congregations in commemoration of Yom Hazikaron / Israel Memorial Day. (Cost is $18 adults, $10 students.)

When Yedidya and his family moved to Halutza, his was one of 30 families; now there are 250 families living in Halutza’s three communities and there are plans to build two more communities. Last summer, during the conflict with Gaza, JNF helped provide 50 shelters for the families; the shelters are connected to their homes since they are so close to the border that they only have a few moments’ notice. JNF has also helped build a synagogue, schools, trailers, parks and a playground and a medical center is currently being built.

Learn more about the development of Halutza here:

Pedaling across the country for children


Bernie Buffone is cycling across the country to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Bernie  Buffone of Berwick, Pennsylvania, stopped by the Jewish News office earlier this week during his visit to Phoenix as part of Kitten Run 2 – a cycling trek across the country to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Buffone, 62, set out on his journey on June 30, 2014, a couple of months after retiring from his work as a senior project representative for an engineering firm. He plans to continue riding until Oct. 15 of this year.

Along the way, he encourages people he meets to send a quarter to St. Jude’s – “Everybody has a quarter,” he says. All funds go directly to St. Jude’s. Send to: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis TN 38105. Attn. Kitten Run .

Seniors waiting for a ride

Now that summer and the High Holidays are over, the Jewish community’s calendar is filled with a variety of events, from a book fair and music festival to guest speakers and classes. But there is one component that our community is seriously lacking, which became clear to me last week after the Great Arizona Challah Bake.

After the hundreds of women had gone home with their braided challah dough, there was one older woman sitting alone on a bench in the lobby of the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus. Although I didn’t know her, I recognized her from my synagogue so I stopped to say hello. She mentioned that she was waiting for Dial-a-Ride and that the driver should arrive any minute.

In the approximately 20 minutes it took for the shuttle to arrive, I learned that this waiting had become a way of life for her. She had arrived at the campus around 5 – registration started at 6 – and at this point, it was about 10:30 p.m.
“This is my life,” she told me, without a trace of resentment. “What else am I going to do?”

She said she lives in Phoenix and enjoys attending the different Jewish community events and doesn’t have any other way of getting there. She already had Dial-a-Ride transportation scheduled for that Saturday night so she could attend the community Havdalah concert at Horizon High School in Scottsdale. She was planning to arrive around two hours before the concert’s 7:30 p.m. start time and be picked up around 10/10:30 p.m.

It’s not a secret that transportation is a big issue when it comes to seniors and not a surprise that the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix’s senior services study identified senior transportation as one of its top three priorities.  It’s also great to hear that one of the fellows from the Valley Beit Midrash’s Start Me Up! fellowship also plans to work on a senior program that includes transportation.

I hope these programs receive the community’s support so that these important members of our community don’t have to wait any longer.

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Jewish News.

JFNA Solidarity mission: Learning about Hamas’ plan of terror

Guest blogger Don Schon is currently in Israel on a solidarity mission with the Jewish Federations of North America.

While we have been in Israel, Hamas has fired more than 160 missiles into Israel. In the south of the country, they have been under bombardment for 14 years with over 3,500 missiles. For those towns and kibbutzim within 3 KM (less than two miles) there is no protection. They are exposed to short-range mortars using shells that are packed with ball bearings and other metal shreds, and to missiles which are fired from such short range that Iron Dome does not help. If that is not enough, they face the threat of terrorists killing their families after emerging from secret tunnels.

We learned about Hamas. This group of fanatics is an outgrowth of the Muslim brotherhood with an ideology perfectly in sync with Nazi ideals of hate and destruction with which they participated during the 1930s. Hamas trained with Al Qaeda and cooperated with Zarkawi. Their charter and ideology mandate not just the destruction of Israel, but the extermination of the Jewish people.

Hamas took over Gaza, quickly kneecapped and threw from building roofs every leader of the Palestine Authority they could find. They proceeded to dismantle any democratic political structures and eliminated elections.

Hamas has been preparing for this conflict for years. Captured documents demonstrate their plan was to build tunnels, infiltrate fighters and on Rosh Hashanah, start a final solution. In the meantime, Hamas infiltrated multiple college-educated terror cells into the West Bank with a plan to effect a coup and take over West Bank. The plans were discovered in the Gaza campaign and IDF arrested over 90 terrorists identified by the discovered documents.

Hamas dug over 150 tunnels for supplies into Egypt large enough to drive BMWs through. And they dug over 30 tunnels into Israel whose only purpose was terrorism against civilians. Each tunnel was dug at cost of over $3 million; a total of over $550 million. Yet they left their people in hovels and without protection from bombs.


Daniel Gordis

Our speaker tonight was the college professor, author and journalist Daniel Gordis, who described Hamas as a cancer. The president went on to national TV after an American journalist who he knew was brutally murdered. He called out for the evil of ISIS to be eliminated. “Is Jewish civilian blood less red than that of the journalist” asked Gordis? “The U.S. will not negotiate with ISIS (nor should it), but the president wants Israel to negotiate through Egypt at the same table with Hamas as moral equivalents?” asked Gordis.

When Senator Obama visited Sderot, he stated that if someone was lobbing rockets where his daughters lived, he would do whatever it took to eliminate the threat. Why should Israel be asked to do less?

Everywhere we went, we were thanked for our love, devotion and even bravery by coming to Israel in the midst of this war. We were thanked by professionals, clerks, rabbis, by soldiers and professors; by widows and mourners, by immigrants and students. We were thanked for going to Sderot on a day when so many rockets were lobbed into it. But we were only under fire for four days!

Israel is a family which is calling out for our help. The only reason we would not be part of that family is if we do not reach back.

JFNA Solidarity Mission: Between the sirens

Guest blogger Stuart Wachs, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, is currently in Israel on a solidarity mission with the Jewish Federations of North America.

We are at Kfar Ibim and we had a red alert and then could hear the rocket exploding; we believe that it was intercepted by the Iron Dome. This is an absorption center for Ethiopians and all of the sudden all the children came running into the main room we were in, which is also the safe room. Amazing to see how “normal” it seemed from the children and also so sad.
Getting briefing from a leading reporter in Israel. Interesting fact, the civilian casualties number that the UN uses come from UN advisers in Gaza who are Palestinian and approved by Hamas. Big surprise that the number of innocent civilians is so exaggerated. The IDF intelligence shows that about 1,000 have been Hamas terrorists.
Other interesting facts:
Each tunnel Hamas has built takes 350 truckloads of supplies. With those supplies, Palestinians could have built 86 homes, six schools or 19 medical clinics. Instead they build tunnels for the single purpose of killing and terrorizing Israeli civilians. The tunnel system is truly like an underground city network going from one building to another. There is no way the Palestinians did not know this network of terror tunnels was being built. We saw footage of IDF soldiers in Gaza fighting Hamas and destroying the tunnels. Their commitment in destroying Hamas and their terror capabilities was clear. What an amazing group of young men and women. The IDF is strong, determined, mighty and also the most ethical troops in the world.
Have to go now, a siren just went off and we have to go to a shelter.

JFNA solidarity mission: A firsthand look at life under constant barrage

Guest blogger Don Schon is currently in Israel on a solidarity mission with the Jewish Federations of North America. Here is his account of the delegation’s first day.

Today we went to Sderot. The sirens went off three times; Iron Dome protected us twice. It really works. Once we were caught outside, as 15 seconds is really a very short period to get to shelter.

We started this morning with a video and lecture about the Gaza campaign. What we are not shown by our news media was disturbing. Hamas had been preparing for years for this war which was supposed to end very differently and with mass murder of Israeli civilians. There was an underground city with alleys, command and planning rooms, interconnected streets. Using this,  the fighters would disappear and reappear at will making it very difficult for the IDF.

More than 30 tunnels were discovered going into Israel, five into an agricultural kibbutz, Navaot. The only purpose of this could have been murder of large numbers of civilians. Many of these tunnels were over one-mile long.


Don Schon

Next we drove south to Sderot, to an absorption center for new immigrants, almost all Ethiopian. The sirens rang and over 30 children rushed into the room. We watched and participated in a therapy sessions using role playing for preteen children. We heard about the trauma to the children from constant missiles and the feeling someone hates you and wants to kill you.

We went to a high school for science and technology built by an American philanthropist. It is built to be bomb proof so the kids can learn without constantly jumping and running. The walls and roof are at least 18 inches thick reinforced cement. The overhangs are massive for protection if case the kids are caught walking outside. There are safe structures easily reachable. We were caught outside. They work.

The principal told of his goal, which is to teach the children not to hate those who are trying to kill them. This is both for their mental health and so eventually they will be able to live there after there is peace. We spoke with a 16-year-old who told of her life under constant barrage. What bothered her most was the way they are presented by the international media. Her father works for Intel; she was born in Mesa.

We met with the mayor. He is determined that they will grow their city and not be driven from their homes.

We heard about the Jewish Agency for Israel’s trauma program and spoke to women from Kibbutz Navaot on the border. We heard of the trauma to teens and families who have repetitively been forced to run for their lives for 14 years. One group met with a mother and daughter who lived in a very large house. They were so traumatized, they had abandoned life in all parts of the house except the basement.

All I could feel was anger. Anger at a situation and world that makes people live like this.

JFNA solidarity mission, day one: Politics and Beit Halochem


Members of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix delegation include Association President and CEO Stuart Wachs, fourth from left, and Shahar Edry, director of the Israel Center, second from left. Photo by Don Schon

Guest blogger Don Schon is currently in Israel on a solidarity mission with the Jewish Federations of North America. Here is his account of the delegation’s first day.

Ninety seconds! That’s the amount of time that people in Tel Aviv have to get to a shelter after the sirens sound and before a missile strikes.

 This day started and ended with political discussions with Israelis, both a stranger (a tour professional) this morning and a family this afternoon. The sentiments expressed were strangely similar. The Israelis both times expressed anger at the fanaticism, cruelty and hatred of Hamas. They expressed approval of their government’s response to the crisis. Then they expressed frustration that their political process has not brought them closer to peace and security.


Beit Halochem is a sports, rehabilitation and recreation center in Israel serving disabled veterans and their families. Photo courtesy of Don Schon

In between, we went to visit an inspiring institution (actually a collection of five branches), Beit Halochem, or the House of the Warriors. This tiny country has dealt with 50,000 disabled war veterans since 1948. They have done so by developing this amazing place for the war casualties to go after they leave hospital-associated institutions. Beit Halochem has over 11,000 visits per month. It provides a panoply of services, including counseling to hospitalized serviceman/woman and food vouchers for their families. Once they are released, it provides long-term rehab services, retraining, emotional support, educational grants, quiet places for those with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and noisy places for their families and children. It does this with 85 percent of its funds coming from donations and user fees and a director with a Ph.D. in business and experience in private business and community service.

Torture Apparatus

This ceramic piece was made by an IDF soldier who spent five months in Hezbollah captivity in Syria; making these ceramic pieces was part of his therapy. Photo by Don Schon

Before we left, we had a session with an IDF soldier who spent five months in Hezbollah captivity in Syria. He explained his ceramic representations made as part of his therapy. They are torture equipment his capturers used to extract information. For four and a half months, he underwent daily torture. He was strung up with chains with a bag over his head and spun and beaten over a polished metal blade, knowing if they felt he had no value he would be murdered. As a bonus, they threw him to the ground and stomped on him, beating and cursing him. The third ceramic is of the imaginary scenes he visualized to maintain his sanity. He went on to correctly predict in dreams his eventual release and his successful career in business. He described his unexpected near death in an auto accident, economic decline and bankruptcy and the repossession of his home. In spite of all this, he chose to concentrate on the miracles of happiness which visited his life every day. He gave back by helping the next generation of wounded and disabled veterans. We sat there in silence embarrassed that we ever felt justified in complaining about anything.

We’re in a war, speak up on behalf of life

We received the following letter from Rabbi Bill Berk, rabbi emeritus of Temple Chai, and thought readers of our blog would be interested:

Dear Friends,

Rabbi Chernow asked me to share with you what we have been going through here in Israel.  Unfortunately, I have to report to you that we’re in a war. I’m startled by my use of the “w” word but that’s what we’ve got here. Three times here in Jerusalem, we have had to run for shelter as the sirens have gone off telling us that a rocket or rockets are coming our way. It’s an unbelievable feeling. You see in your head pictures of London during World War II, and people scampering for shelter and then you realize that you are in that picture. One of my stepdaughters lives in the south. She’s got two little kids and one on the way. She and her husband often have to wake the kids in the middle of the night and carry them down four flights of stairs to the safe room. I have another stepdaughter who is in college in the south. She got a letter from her college saying, “Closed till further notice.” Imagine if kids at San Diego State or the University of Arizona got such a letter. Of course, what we have been going through is nothing compared to what the families with soldiers in Gaza are experiencing. 

We are at war with an enemy who has embraced an ideology that is very comfortable with death. This is important  to keep in mind when you see the heartbreaking pictures from Gaza. Hamas (we know this word from our Bible, Genesis 6:11, where we find the word means “violence” or “lawlessness”) has built a whole program around death: 

1. At the beginning of this war, I was trying to keep track of how many rockets aimed at Israel’s cities Hamas had fired, but I finally gave up. It is somewhere over 2,000 rockets. I have a new app on my phone that lets me know when a rocket has been fired and where it’s headed. Let’s be clear about what this means — Hamas is targeting folks like you and me. It is AIMING AT US. If not for American and Israeli scientific skill (the Iron Dome). we would have hundreds or thousands killed and cities in shambles.

2. Hamas uses civilians and does not protect civilians. I noticed that today’s New York Times asks if this is really true. Yes, it is really true. When our army has to fire at a house where rockets have been launched from we begin by sending text messages to the people in the building. Then, we phone them. Then, we drop fliers. We ask them to leave because we don’t want them to get hurt.  We have documented occasions when Hamas has asked the people not to move. They have even irritated some European governments who don’t appreciate that behavior. This is using civilians. They have children involved in the fighting and wearing suicide belts. They admit that death doesn’t bother them and that Israel’s great weakness is a reverence for life.

3. I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the tunnels we have found. There are two major reasons for these tunnels: murder and kidnapping. Thank goodness we found these tunnels. We knew about them, but did not realize the extent and how far they went into Israeli territory. We found one that ends just yards away from a kibbutz dining hall. The tunnels have one additional purpose — to hide Hamas military and political leadership. Whereas they could have built shelters for civilians (not to mention schools and hospitals and hot houses and factories), they chose instead to build military command centers. And don’t forget — we left Gaza. We don’t “rule” or “occupy” them.  These tunnels are about killing and kidnapping Jews who live across the border in a country called Israel.

4. Hamas has done a good job with propaganda. They even convinced UNRWA, the U.N. agency, to hide rockets for them! I do hope this has made the front page of the New York Times. This is not exactly Eleanor Roosevelt’s vision or America’s vision of what the U.N. should be about. When they were caught, UNRWA gave the rockets back to Hamas! I think the U.N. needs to do a little teshuvah this High Holiday season. While we are at it — the American government could do a little teshuvah. I think this would have been a good time for a strong pro-Israel stance. It appears to me that, in their frustration with Netanyahu, the State Department is being a bit too supportive of some of Hamas’ claims and issues. I have my own issues regarding how Netanyahu handled the negotiations with the Palestinians, but that has nothing to do with what we face today. They are shooting at us! We have to stop the rockets and stop the tunnels. Left and right, religious and secular — we are united on this.    

This is a tough time. People are subdued. Ask someone “ma shlom cha?” (how are you?) and you’ll get a sigh and a “beseder” (OK). People are honking horns less. People aren’t going out much. Many have postponed vacations. We’re staying close to the radio and TV. But I want you to know that we’re going to be fine. We’re a big mishpocha (family). Part of what drew me to Israel was this amazing sense of mishpachtiut (family connectedness). That’s part of why it hurts so much right now. We’ve lost a lot of boys and everyone feels it. Today, Batya and I went to a shiva call for a soldier who came from L.A. — he’s what we call a chayil boded (lone soldier, with no family here). 30,000 people came to his funeral! So there’s pain when you are connected. But there is so much strength. It’s a spiritual achievement to extend your love and caring further and further out. I hope you will be proud of your family here in Israel. I hope you will speak up proudly for Israel. Don’t let Hamas win the propaganda war. Speak up on behalf of life.       

God willing, I’ll be in Phoenix and speak at Temple Chai on Aug. 22. I’ll talk on Israel that night.

Best from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Bill Berk
Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Chai

A visit to the Mormon temple in Gilbert

ImageThis weekend marked the end of the public tours of the Mormon temple in Gilbert. Before they are officially dedicated, Church of Latter-Day Saints’ temples are only open to the public for a brief period, and after the dedication, the temples are only open to LDS members in good standing.

So, being a curious bunch, members of the Jewish News editorial staff were among the tens of thousands of visitors to the temple during the open house period, Jan. 18 to Feb. 15.

Our interest in seeing it was shared by many; the parking lot was full, and we were directed to a dirt overflow parking lot down the street. After waiting in line to get in one building, we watched an introductory tour video then walked in a line to the temple itself, where we donned booties over our shoes before entering.

The temple, which is more than 85,000 square feet, was elaborately decorated – parts of it looked like a fancy hotel. The stained glass windows and the celestial room’s centerpiece chandelier were especially beautiful.

As I walked up and down the stairs and in and out of the various rooms, I couldn’t help but think about one of the comparisons made in the introductory video: that the temple’s origin was based on the biblical temple in Jerusalem. But were there actually any similarities between the two?

For me, the Beit HaMikdash has seemed mainly theoretical. I know Jews mourn for its destruction on Tisha b’Av and pray for it to be rebuilt “speedily in our days” in traditional prayer services; but each time I’ve stood at the Kotel, I’ve had a difficult time trying to picture a large-scale model of the Beit HaMikdash behind it and the idea of offering animal sacrifices is completely foreign. It wasn’t until I recently read “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman that it occurred to me how much the destruction of the Temple changed Jewish life.

A publication from Christian ministries distributed by a man standing on the corner between the parking lot and the Gilbert Mormon temple – clearly labeled “Not an LDS Church publication” – listed some of the differences:

In biblical times, only one temple in Jerusalem was recognized; today there are currently more than 135 LDS temples across the world. The primary activity at the Jerusalem temple was the sacrifice of animals in accordance to the law. In the LDS church, the primary activity is “ordinances” for the living and the dead — such as weddings, sealing ceremonies for families and baptisms for the dead (click here for more differences).

One of the most controversial aspects of the Mormon temple, at least in the Jewish community, is the idea of baptizing the dead. On one hand, the Mormons’ genealogical research database can be helpful to those looking to discover more about their family. On the other hand, the idea that it could also be used to baptize said family members is disturbing. (In September 2010, LDS leaders agreed to halt baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims. But then in 2012, it was revealed that Anne Frank and the parents of Simon Wiesenthal were posthumously baptized by church members that year.)  Though church officials said individuals conducting these proxy baptisms are violating the church’s policy, the practice of proxy baptism still feels offensive.

To Mormons, the temple represents a sacred space and on March 2, the Gilbert Arizona Temple will be dedicated. There are three other temples in Arizona: in Mesa, Snowflake and the Gila Valley. A fifth temple, in Phoenix, is currently under construction, and a sixth, in Tucson, has been announced, according to a brochure distributed during the tour.

Although there are naturally many differences between the biblical and LDS temples – and of course Judaism and Mormonism – Rabbi Perry Tirschwell, executive director of the National Council of Young Israel, wrote last year in the Jewish Press about the similarities between Orthodox Jews and Mormons after a meeting between the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center and the church and its political leadership in Salt Lake City.

Following that lead, we want to thank the Mormon church for inviting us into their sacred space so we could learn more about our neighbors.

A day at the zoo

As a journalist, I spend a lot of time in front of my computer, so it’s nice when an assignment gets me out of the office for a bit. It’s even nicer when the destination is The Phoenix Zoo on a beautiful autumn afternoon.

I was there to meet Yehuda Bar, the director of the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv-Ramat-Gan in Israel. Bar, who has been the director of the zoo for 17 years, is here for a two-day visit to The Phoenix Zoo, during which he’ll tour The Phoenix Zoo’s various facilities, including the Joyce Corrigan Memorial Animal Care Center, the Conservation Center and the Wild Science Workshop.

The purpose of the visit is for Bar and Bert Castro, President/CEO of the Arizona Zoological Society/Phoenix, to share ideas and to continue to build the relationship not just between the zoos, but the cities — Phoenix and Ramat-Gan are Sister Cities. Castro and a number of other Valley representatives, including Phoenix Vice Mayor Michael Johnson, visited Ramat-Gan last year to help celebrate its 90th anniversary; a visit to the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv-Ramat-Gan was part of the itinerary.

During my interview, Bar and Castro spoke about what they hope to learn from each other, the challenges that zoos face and the importance of zoological parks.

Want to know more? Read my article in the Nov. 1 issue of Jewish News.