Oftentimes, my life seems to be on one continuous loop – commutes to and from school, putting out a weekly paper, meal preparations and lots of laundry. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it’s nice to get a break from the routine. This past week has been a whirlwind of a break.
Thursday: I joined about 800 other women in our community at the Valley of the JCC for the Great AZ Challah Bake. This was part of the Shabbat Project, which reached 1,150 cities in 94 countries this year. An estimated 1 million people took part in celebrations on and around the Shabbat of Nov. 11-12, according to a press release I received.
The Shabbat Project’s goal of presenting an opportunity for Jewish unity was very welcome, especially this week after last week’s election spurred so much divisiveness, protests, and racist and anti-Semitic actions. According to the release, 8,000 women attended a challah bake in Buenos Aires, 15 families in a tiny Jewish enclave in Cancun, Mexico, kept Shabbat for the first-time and there was even a Shabbaton on board a cruise ship in the Atlantic.
Friday: My family and I joined about 100 other people for an outdoor Shabbat dinner in a cul-de-sac in a Phoenix neighborhood, organized through the Phoenix Community Kollel as part of the Shabbat Project. One of the beautiful things about Shabbat is sharing it with other people in a variety of ways. The weekend before, my family and I were in Flagstaff and celebrated Shabbat at Congregation Lev Shalom (previously Heichal Baornim), where we participated in a beautiful musical Shabbat service with congregants there.
Saturday: We celebrated a bar mitzvah of a friend’s son at our synagogue and coordinated some play dates.
Sunday: I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the American Jewish Press Association’s annual conference, which was held in conjunction with the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (GA). After arriving at my hotel near Dupont Circle, I had vegetarian Indian food with colleagues from Nashville, Jerusalem and Dayton, Ohio then toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of the GA.
Monday: The AJPA conference kicked off with a “Show & Tell” session that showcased AJPA newspapers around the country, and attendees shared multiple ideas with one another. Other sessions included Dr. Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler, director of the Israel Democracy Institute Media Reform Program, who spoke about the similarities and differences between American and Israeli media; and we learned about trends, tools and technologies of new journalism and new media from Yaakov Katz, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, William Daroff, JFNA senior vice president for public policy and Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel new media editor.
AJPA attendees were also invited to attend the GA Plenary, which featured Natan Sharansky, head of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Next, AJPA attendees headed to the International Spy Museum for the 35th annual Simon Rockower Awards reception. Plus we got to tour the museum, which was founded by philanthropist Milton Maltz and features a collection of international espionage artifacts. At the ceremony, Jewish News won first place for Outstanding Digital Outreach in Division B, for newspapers with a circulation of 14,999 or less.
Tuesday: I got a chance to meet with my husband’s cousin’s wife for breakfast. She’s an Israeli filmmaker who was in town to speak at a session at the GA and was heading back to Tel Aviv that morning. (A little plug for her – Rama Burshtein, who wrote and directed “Fill the Void,” just released a new comedy in Israel: “Through the Wall.”)
Next was a session about journalists who covered the 2016 presidential race and the struggles they faced, including anti-Semitic attacks.
The GA’s closing plenary was next, featuring a tribute to Shimon Peres, featuring his son Chemi Peres, chairman of the Peres Center for Peace; an address from JFNA President & CEO Jerry Silverman; and a video conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
who expressed high hopes for Israel’s future relationships with other countries, citing technology partnerships as an example.
That afternoon we had a session about solution journalism (attendees from the business departments of their newspapers had some separate sessions that focused on their work) and we finished the day with a dinner meeting of AJPA’s executive board. (And then I took an evening walk, about three miles total, to the White House, with a colleague from Nashville.)
Wednesday: The conference came to a close with a change in plans – an opportunity to visit the State Department with briefings from government officials: Ira Forman, special envoy of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; Chanan Weissman, the White House Jewish liaison; Tom Yazdgerdim, special envoy for Holocaust Issues; and Michael Yaffe, senior adviser of the special envoy to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
After that it was a lunch during AJPA’s annual meeting and then we all headed home to our respective cities – and newspapers and communities.
All of these experiences made me realize just how small our world is and how interconnected we are and how many people work so diligently to bring good into the world. Despite the feelings of divisiveness and hatred that have been expressed this past week in the aftermath of the election, we have to remember that all of that is nothing new – it has always existed and will likely always exist (Ira Forman said the same thing about anti-Semitism during the briefing at the State Department).
We need to focus on the good and work hard to bring out the goodness in the world instead of focusing only on the bad. Hearing about all the good being done around the world – the GA plenaries also included stories told by individuals from Greece, Israel, Morocco and the Ukraine – I felt some light was brought into the darkness that overshadowed the world in the days after the election.
And now on to all the laundry that piled up in my absence …
Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Phoenix Jewish News.
As I’m writing this, I’m flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet and just passing over Philadelphia, according to the screen in the front of the cabin. I’m on my way to Israel for the first time in 20 years and have 5,721 miles – nearly 10 hours – left to go. A big difference from my usual schedule – last weekend I barely left the house (I did get countless loads of laundry done, though).I’m wearing the complimentary headset listening to a channel that has played songs in Hebrew along with Frank Sinatra and The Beatles and have watched two movies so far: The Oranges and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, both with Hebrew subtitles. Not being much of a world traveler – although I love the idea – I’m trying to absorb the idea that I left Phoenix on Tuesday morning and after a quick flight to L.A, I’m going to get off the plane on Wednesday afternoon in Tel Aviv.This journey is the start of a press trip to Israel through the American Jewish Press Association and sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and El Al. I’m so appreciative of these organizations, as well as Jewish News Publisher Flo Eckstein, for this opportunity. (Not to mention of course, so grateful for my wonderful husband who is holding down the fort at home with our three young boys and a dog and for those family members, friends and co-workers who are helping out so I can take this trip).
One perk so far – in addition to the bag of goodies that El Al sent before the trip – was waiting in the Business Lounge in the International terminal at LAX. In addition to the beautiful sitting area, computers, TV and newspapers, there were also complimentary drinks and snacks, including kosher egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches. When the time came to board the plane, an announcement was made right there in the lounge. After checking my email, I met up with a fellow press trip traveler and we walked to the gate together. It wasn’t a normal gate, though, we rode in a bus across the runway to board the plane.
El Al’s slogan is so true: It’s not just an airline, it’s Israel. You feel it as soon as you get on the plane. There’s something special about being immersed in the Hebrew conversations, although I can only identify a few scattered words. It reminds me of sitting at my mother-in-law’s Shabbat table with her Israeli friends. The safety instructions are in English and Hebrew, as are the signs. The food is kosher – and delicious. Dinner was pasta bolognese, salad, a container of Sabra hummus, pita and chocolate cake.
Right now, the cabin is dark and I know I should probably try sleeping but it’s only about 7 p.m. my time so I’m not quite ready to do so yet. Maybe I’ll watch another movie.