Program gives iPads to every special education teacher in Israel

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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.

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Federation’s interfaith mission to Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


JFNA Israel mission: Providing job training for the haredi community

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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 Israel portion of the mission.

What do you do if you are a Haredi scholar in Israel who has set up six kollelim for Haredi to study in and one day realize what you built does not meet the needs of a large number of Haredi men and women? You set about correcting the situation.

At the formation of the State of Israel, 400 men were exempted from the army in order to salvage the field of Torah study. However, that 400 has grown into a large population of ultra-Orthodox with only a  seventh-grade secular education level and minimal job skills. The number of Haredi needing financial assistance and not serving in the IDF is so large it has become disruptive to Israeli society. Recognizing that he had students whose needs were financial and for whom a lifetime of devotional study was not appropriate, he started a new program with JDC (The Joint Distribution Committee or “Joint”).  In this program, women who have teaching degrees that they cannot use (too many ultra-Orthodox woman have trained as teachers and there are not enough jobs for them) are retrained. Men get job skill assessment and skills training at a separate time of day.

In this program, they identify existing skills, teach candidates to write a resume, get them into a program for the Israeli equivalent of a GED, provide job training programs in the private sector and military and help them achieve the dignity of self-reliance and exposure to the rest of Israeli society. After assessment and training, clients qualify for government-subsidized training programs. This program is very careful to train only men and women who seek out the help. This program is also careful to tell clients they do not have to leave their lifestyle and social network to participate.

This and sister programs throughout Israel have trained and obtained employment for 30,000 Haredi men and women and have taken them off the welfare roles while giving them the dignity of self-reliance. After completing the program, the trainee qualifies for government-funded educational and training programs. Thus the cost per client to JDC is only about 250 Federation dollars. These programs, as with most JDC programs, are expected to gradually become self-funded.

Some of these programs have been sponsored by the IDF, which places Haredi men in non-combatant support roles. In one example of a group trained as aircraft mechanics, the secular commander was so pleased with their performance during Operation Protective Edge, that he requested as many Haredi mechanics as he could train.

These programs use JFNA dollars raised in North America. Our sages tell us that Jews are responsible to and for each other and that no Jew should ever be left behind. I think that we can be proud of what we do!


JNF fellows: Exploring Kabbalah and discovering heroes

camelThe five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, all five students reflect on the past week.

Sunday, July 5

As every other day, we learned a lot! However, today was different. Today I learned about the HSI (High School in Israel) community and what it really means. At first, when we all learned that there were over 180 kids, many felt very overwhelmed. But let me just tell you: It’s amazing how fast word travels around here! Both Gabe and Reuben have been challenged with injuries and sad life events and it’s been amazing to watch the entire campus come together. Whether listening to side conversations or watching friends carry pints of ice cream to their doors, it’s so easy to see that we all really are one big family!

Instead of spending my free time deciding what to do, I now focus on figuring out ways to maximize it. I spent the afternoon making new friends in the Rapaport dorm and accompanying them to the local restaurant, Ofer’s. Later, I went to town with a couple of friends. Together, we stopped in every market in town – about eight – buying a few items from each place. Our purchases included: cookie dough ice cream, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, strawberry-banana juice and Cap’n Crunch.

It’s really starting to feel like home. I can’t even begin to think about leaving!

Madyssen Zarin

Monday, July 6

Today we woke up early to go on an exciting tiyul (trip) in the northern region of Israel! We began by learning about the Crusaders, at the beautiful Belvoir castle.

After that, we swam in the Kinneret. It was nice to be back in the lovely waters of the Sea of Galilee. Although it was lovely, I wish I brought shoes! The heat of the ground paired with the sharpness of the rocks was quite painful.

After the brief swim, we headed over to Tzfat, one of my favorite cities in Israel. The beautiful stone paired with the bright colored doors enchanted by the spirituality of the city makes for a great time. Walking around the familiar city, buying jewelry, and showing newcomers my favorite places was nostalgic and fascinating. Additionally, I ran in to someone I know back at home. Crazy!

– Madeline Stull

Tuesday, July 7

This week has been rough one. Sadly, I broke my clavicle while playing football a few days back; however, I’ve still managed to have a fantastic time!

Today was a day to remember. It began with class. Once we finished, we were given the option to stay back and study or go to SACH. SACH stands for Save a Child’s Heart – a nonprofit organization that brings in children from around the world for lifesaving heart operations. I love working and playing with kids, so I decided to take up that option.

EthiopianMany of the children that we played with were from Ethiopia. I spent most of the time playing with my friend Rihad, one of the cutest and most fun kids I’ve ever met. I rolled him around on his little stroller and then played ball with him and some of my other friends.

We got back around six o’clock. I went to dinner and then studied for our upcoming exam.

‘Twas a great day!

– Reuben Nach

Wednesday, July 8

Today we continued studying the early Zionist movements in our core class. But I would like to focus more on the mystical city of Tzfat that we had the privilege of touring a couple days ago. Tzfat is considered to be a mystical city because the Kabbalah was developed there.

Beyond the beauty of the city and surrounding nature, I felt there was a deeper sense of community (kehillah) than in most places we’ve visited. I think that sense of kehillah may derive from the deep studies of Kabbalah. It was interesting to see the other side of questioning our universe from the Jewish perspective.

I appreciated that opposed to Hellenists, Jews focused more on what to do, what is right and what is wrong and how to be truly good people (most Hellenists never would have thought about how to be a good person if it didn’t involve slaves or some other morally iffy pillar of their culture). But I felt a bit disappointed that Jews never got into the truly exciting questions that many Hellenists struggled with. It has always excited me to think about philosophical questions and struggle with competing answers. That feeling of disappointment immediately disappeared after learning more about the Kabbalah.

It was difficult to really understand the Kabbalah from a single half-hour discussion – most Kabbalists study it for half their lives! But while speaking to a local artist, Abraham, I gained a more meaningful understanding.

During my conversation with Abraham I was transfixed upon the largest motif within his art – selflessness. Nearly every work had some representation of giving of yourself for the benefit of others as inspired by the Torah. I had previously learned a little bit about the levels of giving in Judaism, but in discovering the Kabbalah, I gained a far deeper understanding while being provided with even more fascinating questions.
– Gabe Friedland

Thursday, July 9

6:30 a.m.: *knock* *knock* “Boker tov”

We are up and ready for another long day of amazing sights and stories on our next tiyul. Our adventure today is “The Story of the halutzim of the second aliyah.”

It began at Kfar Giladi, where we had class on the roof of the museum of HaShomer (the Guardians). Before we even spoke a word, our teacher had us look out into the distance – both north and south – and to think of adjectives we would use to describe what we saw.

We all collectively wrote down terms such as: picturesque, vast, green, serene, breathtaking, etc. Only then did we begin class and travel back in time to when there was nothing.

After we learned about the brave pioneers who traveled to Am Yisrael from Russia in the years 1904-1914, we went inside the museum and watched the extremely informative videos. We learned about “HaShomer,” the first Jewish defense force and how they had to learn from each other how to defend their people.

From Kfar Giladi, we went and had delicious lunch at a spring. We ate, went swimming, and sat around and listened to Yosef and Phillip play guitar. From there, we had another 40-minute ride to Tiberias, where we had the most powerful class of the day at the Kinneret Cemetery.

cemeteryWe sat around the grave of Rachel the Poetess as we learned about her exemplary life. She was a pioneer who came to the land and then ended up going back to Russia where she helped out in an orphanage. There, she was infected by tuberculosis yet she didn’t know. She came back to Am Yisrael, made a life in the Kinneret, and wrote rather romantic poetry about the beauty and love she has for the Kinneret.

She was quarantined in an apartment in Tel Aviv where she ended up dying but even there she would write poetry based upon the memories she carried with her. After class, Phillip pulled out his guitar, and we sat around the brave pioneer’s grave and sang her beautiful words back to her.

The class gathered in a circle where we all shared who we thought were heroes, anyone we know personally or throughout history. Someone may be a hero in someone else’s eyes by the doing the smallest favor. The biggest heroes seem to be the ones who don’t believe they are. We had DOTS: Dinner on the Streets, where I got some delicious shawarma. Later, we went to a chocolate factory and had some amazing ice cream. There is nothing compared to the ice cream in Israel – it’s beyond amazing and refreshing!

It feels as if I have been here for months yet time is slowly nearing the end. This experience has already been life-changing and has given me memories that I will have for my entire life. Being able to learn our history exactly where it happened is something that everyone should be lucky enough to experience.

– Rachael Weinstein


JNF fellows: From an ancient village to Tel Aviv’s White Night

The five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. They will share their experience with Jewish News readers through the newspaper’s JN Blog. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, Gabe Friedland and Rachael Weinstein share their experience.

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June 24

The last two days have been incredible, leaving me in a state where I don’t know where I can possibly begin. Which site and activity deserves to be mentioned first? While all are significant to my people, is one more important than any other? I believe there is and my answer surprised myself. The ancient village of Sataf.

Sataf was an ancient village from the time of the Judges after the Exodus. The time period of the Judges was one of turmoil and immorality, yet the struggles of the period failed to reach Sataf. Why? Why did Sataf flourish in a time of moral disparity? My people worked together. When faced with the seemingly impossible task of farming a steep mountain side without water, the people began terrace farming and digging into the mountain to get water. To survive in such a difficult place, each member of the society had to continuously sacrifice his or her own needs for the good of their people. We have been discussing the historical accuracy of the Bible and the teachings we can therefore derive. Sataf is a monument to humility and selflessness, Jewish principles that I try to hold dear to my heart.

Then, the Kotel, the epicenter of my people. My teacher mentioned he had a friend who was not religious, yet loves the Kotel more than anything. This love is because for more than 2,000 years, every Jew prayed toward Jerusalem, every Jew in Jerusalem prayed to the Old City, and every Jew in the Old City to the Kotel.

I was standing where generations of my ancestors couldn’t, where all Judaic prayers are sent to and a place I don’t have the words to describe and maybe never will. While other words fail to describe what or how I felt, I know that I could not have come close to experiencing it in Arizona.

— Gabe Friedland

June 25

“Wow, today has been such a long, fun and tiring day. It all started when we woke up, stressing about our first Unit Test here at HSI. As everyone gathered in the dining hall, it was last minute studying mixed with panic. I walk into the classroom, sit down, grab my pencil….and begin.

Happiness bursts through me as I hand in my test and walk out of the classroom. How do my friends and I celebrate? We obviously go into town and by some freshly made rugalach and iced coffee. After our lovely and delicious celebratory snack, we made our way back to campus, for the remainder of what was yet another amazing class.

However, the most amazing part of this lovely Thursday was “White Night” in Tel Aviv. It was a lit-up party in the middle of the city but because you can’t play loud music there, it was a headphone party. That means that everyone wears a headset and the DJ comes through the headset, and if you take them off…everyone else looks ridiculous because they are essentially dancing to silence.

Dancing like crazy, in the middle of Tel Aviv made it really feel like the start of an amazing program. It was an incredible feeling to be part of a local event whereas not just a touristy thing. Talking to Israelis and making new friends just adds so much to this already wonderful program. Well…White Out is over so time for light’s out.

– Rachael Weinstein


JNF fellows: A week of firsts

Reuben Nach puts on tefillin at the Kotel. Photo courtesy of JNF

Reuben Nach puts on tefillin at the Kotel. Photo courtesy of JNF

The five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. They will share their experience with Jewish News readers through the newspaper’s JN Blog. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, Madyssen Zarin, Maddie Stull and Reuben Nach describes the first week of the program.

Sunday, June 21

It’s a week of firsts.

Each dorm follows a slightly different schedule in order to enable greater personal experiences. Since my dorm, Wohl, went on our Tiyul to Gezer during the week, we mirrored the other dorms and had extra class. Our morning session was four hours long. Let me just tell you, four hours of anything is always too much, but everything has a way of working in Israel. Tell any teenager to sit in class on a Sunday for four hours, and I bet there will not be much of anything happening, except from the periodical naps. Except not with Phillip. (Twenty of us have Phillip as a teacher, while the other 20 have Mordechai as a teacher).

In Israel, passion just flows from the seams. From the honk of the horn on the streets, to the tears at the Kotel, the meow of the cats or the joy in the teachers’ eyes- it’s always there, always present. As a Jewish teen who has attended Jewish day school for a majority of her life, I cannot even begin to explain how many times I have heard the story of Abraham. No discredit to my teachers back home, but four hours here was nothing! I could listen to the story again and again if it meant I was in the land of Israel, learning about my ancestors, from people just as passionate as I am.

After class, we were given free time. During this time, people usually sleep, snack or go into town. Like many of my friends, I walked off campus, turned the corner and found myself in the heart of Hod HaSharon. I successfully asked the shopkeepers where I was able to find various items in town. The next day was my madrich’s birthday and I couldn’t wait to give him his presents, which included, of course, a balloon that said “Go Diego Go! Feliz cumpleanos!” That night we hastily prepared for our next tiyul, Gilboa. I remember feeling nervous about the intense hike, but so excited to experience another part of Israel. Despite maintaining the five-mile radius, every day is an adventure!”

 First Shabbat: June 19-20

The first Shabbat was incredible! After cleaning up for Shabbat, we went to the Moadon (our lounge/hangout room). All the girls gathered together, lit the candles and said the blessing. This was one of the first glimpses of the connection to Judaism. Despite our different upbringings religiously, socially and geographically, we were all able to connect on a level much deeper than superfluous conversation. As we entered the dining hall, we were greeted by neatly set tables, smiling madrichim and tons of food. Loaves of challah, bowls of soup, dishes of rice, trays of chicken, bright green napkins in clear cups- the table was covered. After dinner, my Madrichim, Gai and Yosef, set up an oneg. We had an assortment of classic Israeli treats including rugalach, Bisli and Bamba. We spent our evening doing ice breakers with others in our dorm and really getting to know each other.

Since it was Shabbat, wakeup wasn’t ‘til 11:30! Most of the campus enjoyed the extra hours but I, along with another kid from the Friedman dorm, went to the Orthodox synagogue down the street. Both of us are Conservative but we loved experiencing Shabbat in Israel.

The walk was nice and it was comforting to see all of the other Jews in the street making the same journey. We were pleasantly surprised to see a soon- to-be bride and groom celebrating their wedding with an aliyah. Once we returned, we relaxed for a few hours. I spent time talking with girls in my room, kids from my dorm and my madrichim. In between the snacks and the giggles, we squeezed in a few rounds of cards. After dinner and even more free time, we had a campus-wide Havdalah service. Seeing as Havdalah is my favorite Jewish custom, I readily volunteered to hold the candle. Aside from the fear of burning my fingers from the wicks that topped the nub of the candle, it was beautiful to see and hear 200 people singing together. Afterward, our madrichim attacked us with war paint and we headed across the street for a “proper induction” There was a bonfire and music playing. We all took an oath to commit to our AMHSI family. (If I ever find my phone, videos and pictures will come!)

It’s hard to communicate feelings into words but the experience is absolutely unforgettable. I have no doubt that this phrase will frequently appear in my journals and blogs, but it is the truest statement I have ever heard. The first Shabbat was amazing; not because it was Jewish, not because it was in Israel, but because it was true to AMHSI and the family we have here!

First Tiyul: Gezer- June 19

After a short class and a quick breakfast, we boarded the bus and went on our first Tiyul (trip) to Gezer! For those of you who speak Hebrew, no, it is not a carrot. Turns out, it’s biblical Hebrew. We didn’t learn about the significance of the site until we got there, which really just heightened the experience. When you hear about the history and the blueprints, it just seems like additional facts that teachers try to get you to memorize. But learning and seeing simultaneously does so much more. Maybe it’s a psychological phenomenon or it just simply is easier to understand, but either way, Phillip and Mordechai have it down!

It started off as a little nature walk. We were smelling Israeli air and stepping on Israeli rocks, as we had done in Hod HaSharon. As soon as Phillip began explaining where we were and what we were looking at, it all fell into place. I was standing on a site that was easily 3,000 years old. The number itself is hard to grasp, seeing as I have only lived for 3/500 of that time, but it was remarkable. I was standing atop of a Canaanite children’s altar.

Aside from the irony of being a living child thousands of years later on the same spot, I was able to really appreciate being Jewish. I realized then that I was born into a great people. Instead of using the youth to do the bidding to their gods, Jews saw children as the future. This realization was affirmed as we walked further up the site and saw one of the oldest pieces of Hebrew writing known to man. Known as the Gezer Calendar, the ostracon was inscribed with a nursery rhyme that taught the children about the agricultural seasons. Instead of killing children for their survival, Jews taught their children for their survival.

It was great to be off-campus for the first time and drive through the country. It was great to learn the history of my people and the others in the land. But most of all, it was great to connect my past, with my present and really appreciate all Judaism has to offer!

– Madyssen Zarin

June 21

This Sunday, we woke up bright and early for a full day of class. Although it was long, we learned so many amazing things about Judaism and the history of Israel that I didn’t know before.

One of the coolest things we learned was the origin of the Shema. Essentially, the Shema is the 11 children of Jacob (not including Joseph) telling Jacob that they are ready for ethical monotheism, they are ready to continue on as the people of Israel. The silent part after is Jacob’s response, saying yes, you can all continue on as the people of Israel. To finally learn the meaning of a prayer I have said every day for the last 10 years of my life was refreshing.

Additionally, we learned all about the theory of historicity. By providing an example of historicity, my teacher was finally able to answer a question I have posed for the greater part of my life: are the stories in the Torah real? By teaching my class and me about real documents that we have never heard of before, my faith in the Torah has been renewed. The education I have learned thus far in the program has not only made me more confident in my feelings of Judaism, but has given me more pride and legitimacy to be a Jew.

Before I believed Israel belonged to the Jewish people because that was what I have been told my entire life. Before I believed the enslavement of the Jewish people was by happenstance. Before I believed in theories of which I knew of no supporting evidence. Now the veil has been removed and I haven’t married the wrong bride (I know, hilarious joke about Jacob). Now I can confidently argue for the Jewish case without the binding chains of blind ignorance. To put it simply, being educated feels good. Being educated feels comfortable.

Later in the evening, Madyssen and I went out to town to buy a birthday gift for our wonderful madrich, Yosef. Going out to town, talking to vendors, and just being in Hod Hasharon with my friend was a blast. I can’t wait for the learning, friends, and experiences to come!

June 22

This Monday, we were on a tiyul. It began with a long descent down Mt. Gilboa. There we learned about the Book of Judges, while looking at the landscape as it was weaved into the story. Seeing and learning at the same time is something I have never experienced before and certainly helps solidify the knowledge, as well as create memories.

After the tedious hike down the face of the mountain, we had a refreshing dip in the natural springs, Gan HaShlosha (Sachne). I had been there the year before and returning brought back fond memories. There my madrich, Gai and I swam around and talked. Afterward, we took a long bus ride to the wonderful city of Jerusalem!

Once we got there, we went to a view point and sang Yerushalaim Shel Zahav. Looking over the beauty of the city while hearing the beauty of the song was magnificent. Looking at the beauty and then experiencing it helped build a very strong connection. Driving through my favorite city while thinking about my future (college, etc.) made me realize I want Israel to be a big part of it. Maybe I will make aliyah next year!

— Maddie Stull

 

June 23

My first week on HSI has been action packed. We spent a few days learning in the classroom. Later on in the week we visited various beautiful cities and attractions, and learned off the land. Today was one of the best days we had yet.

The highlight of the day was definitely visiting the Kotel. Immediately, my expectations came to reality. All of the beautiful pictures and postcards of the Wailing Wall were nothing compared to experiencing it in person.

At the Kotel, I put on tefillin, and prayed beside the wall. While I was praying, an unreal idea that my teacher shared was going through my mind. This idea was that we were standing at the point where all the Jewish people in the world turn to during prayer. This thought was amazing; it enhanced my prayer and experience. Seeing the Kotel with my own eyes was an unforgettable experience.

This first week, and especially today, were amazing to say the least. I can’t wait for the rest of the awesome experiences that await me.

— Reuben Nach


Students begin JNF Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program

The five teens that are currently in Israel as part of Jewish National Fund’s Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program  are, from left, Madeline Stull, Madyssen Zarin, Rachael Weinstein, Gabriel Friedland and Reuben Nach. Photo courtesy of JNF

The five teens that are currently in Israel as part of Jewish National Fund’s Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are, from left, Madeline Stull, Madyssen Zarin, Rachael Weinstein, Gabriel Friedland and Reuben Nach. Photo courtesy of JNF

The five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. They will share their experience with Jewish News readers through the newspaper’s JN Blog. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Click here to learn more about the fellowship.

Here are the initial posts by two of the high school students: Gabe Friedland and  Madeline Stull.

The journey begins: Getting oriented

Beep beep beep! It was 4:45 in the morning on Tuesday and I was off to the airport. After meeting with my friends at the Phoenix airport and sleeping the whole way to New York, we realized we were about to meet the kids we would be spending our summer with. We were collectively tired, excited, hungry, and maybe a bit nervous. It took time to find where we were actually supposed to be but once we did, we were engulfed into a room full of card games, laughter, introductions, reunions between old friends, and finally, food. The five-hour layover flew by and quickly we began to board the plane.

After a lovely nap on the plane to Tel Aviv and waiting in the lines at passport control, we were whisked onto buses and taken to the dining hall on campus. The long trip was finally concluded with a meal of pasta and hummus. In the dorm, we set up our rooms, showered, and either passed out from exhaustion or stayed awake the entire night.

Onto a lovely orientation session in which we were shown the campus and explained the rules of the program, but far more interesting than that was our first class. After 11 years and various summer programs and classes, I have only seen a teacher with as much passion for teaching their material twice before. A simple introductory game turned into a funny, vivid explanation for the importance of history to Jews. I have been in Israel for about two days and I can already tell that I will learn more than I ever have in six weeks, and I will have a great time doing it.

 – Gabe Friedland

Thursday morning we had orientation. At orientation the rules and regulations of the program were explained to us in detail. More than just the rules, we were told all the freedom given to us on this trip. I was so excited to learn how frequently we can go into town, where we can go, and all that we can do. As compared to other trips, this amount of freedom is absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to use it!

After the formal orientation, we had our first class. My teacher is Mordechai and he is wonderful. Already on our first day we learned so much. We learned about the Torah, the Tanach, and about Abraham.

Our homework was to read the Enuma Elish, the Mesopotamian creation story and read the first three chapters of the Torah, the Jewish creation story. Then we had to compare and contrast the two and the values they both put across. By reading the Enuma Elish, we can see the cultural values that Abraham was raised in, then compare it to the religion’s values that he was the father of. The difference was astonishing.

  – Madeline Stull


Bnei Menashe to settle in Golan Heights

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A young oleh from Manipur arrives at Ben Gurion Airport. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

A group of 78 Bnei Menashe immigrants on aliyah from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, which borders Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh, arrived in Israel today, through the work of Shavei Israel,  an organization that reaches out and assists Lost Tribes and “Hidden Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people. Absorption Minister Zev Elkin greeted the immigrants upon arrival.

These new olim will be settled in Katzrin on the Golan Heights, which was the tribal patrimony of Manasseh in biblical times. This is the first time that Shavei Israel is settling a group of Bnei Menashe on the Golan, some 2,700 years after their ancestors were exiled from the land.


CBI’s trip to Israel: A moment of transcendent gratitude

Members of Congregation Beth Israel are wrapping up a trip to Israel led by Rabbi Stephen Kahn. Here’s a note from Ken Seidberg, written on Dec. 24, about one of the highlights of the trip for him.

We hear from others who have visited Israel that every day one experiences a sight or an event so significant, so different that it will stay with you forever.  Since visits to Israel for most of us are few and far between, when that time arrives we can only hope that will be true for us.  Today I think I can say that we all shared such a moment.

That moment occurred for us all in the furthest northern border of Israel. At the Israel-Lebanon border, overlooking the Hula Valley and with Mount Hermon’s snowcapped peaks and the vast range of the Golan nearly in sight, our CBI troop met a man named Eitan.  A slight, lean but strong man of 53 with incredible resolve and love for his life in Israel as a “farmer” met our troop of 18 CBI’ers with a purpose to show us two things: his Israel and the men that make his Israel possible.

His Israel was evident to us as he proudly led us over the hills to fields of apples and kiwis. He spoke of these vast fields of green like a father retelling stories of his son’s acts of heroism. These fields were his life’s work and his legacy to Israel.  And the stark barren and rocky Lebanese side drew a sharp contrast to two people, Israelis who worked to make life better and worth living and those on the other side he sought hard not to call his “enemy.”

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CBI bat mitzvah Reann Bressler plants a kiwi tree at Kibbutz Malkia on the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo courtesy of CBI

Eitan thanked us for entrusting him with his protection and particularly the six children on our bus to his care there in the fields as he took us within meters of Hezbollah’s southern watch post. Eitan, however, took us for a special task.  We arrived at section of a beautiful “orchard,” and leaving the bus, we followed him to the side of that field.  There he showed us a recovered and disarmed Katyusha missile that had been fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon into the fields.  He then showed us two kiwi plants he had set aside for the young adults in our group to plant, which they did while we all watched…he said that our response to Hezbollah’s evil ways would be to do the Jewish thing; the Israeli thing … to plant fruit trees.

Eitan received a phone call and advised we needed to immediately go to another location. He had arranged a rendezvous with IDF soldiers tasked with protecting Israel’s northern border.  After some moments’ drive, we saw them; eight uniformed and armed IDF soldiers beside two armor plated military vehicles (one topped with a machine gun).  These 19-year-old “men” with M16, radio and other equipment strapped to their bodies watched us intently as we approached them from our bus.  One could see in their eyes a look that expressed…”who are these people?” and “what do they really want?”  Of course, they knew generally. Eitan, the “farmer” and military liaison for Kibbutz Malkia had told them. But the look was still there… that guarded look.

We made our introductions and Rabbi Kahn presented them with a few practical gifts: coffee burners and paraphernalia they could use in the field and some food. This was a small way for us to show them we appreciated them and what they were doing for Israel and for every Jew and non-Jew who loves Israel.

But then that moment came: that moment of emotion that overwhelms you when you realize how important that moment is in your life. The realization and understanding of what these men these 19-year-old men are doing requires, demands from you more than gifts. The moment compels you to tell these men what they mean to you and how much you love what they do and, yes, even love them though you don’t even know them. And we did. We told them and we told them that while we were not there with them last summer, we followed them, we prayed for them and we cried for their (our) lost lives those terrible two months. We told them they were as our own sons.

The day was not over for us but in truth the climax of our day had come. The moment we came to Israel for… the moment we take home for the rest of our lives had come. It was a moment of transcendent gratitude — where we deeply understood what it means to be part of the Jewish People … of the Jewish Family.

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Gabrielle Kahn, 13, along with other CBI members, brought gifts to IDF soldiers protecting the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo courtesy of CBI


JFNA Solidarity Mission: A visit to Mount Herzl

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A grave at Mount Herzl Cemetery. Photo by Stuart Wachs

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. 

Just leaving Mount Herzl Military Cemetery where 63 brave young men have been buried in just the last month. We heard from a wife and brother of a 20-year-old soldier who was just buried two weeks ago. I looked out at the cemetery filled with young men and women who where full of love who all died because of evil and hatred toward them.

We can not sit by idly  and have more and more young soldiers killed. We must as civilized people and countries fight against the evil of Islamic Jihadist killing thousands of people around the world. We must eliminate this evil and we must stand by Israel.
I can not imagine having to bury one of my children at this young age.