Sunset in Jerusalem

The Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly

November 12, 2013

 7:30 a.m.

At the JFNA Board of Trustees meeting, the Rochester Federation is announced as recipient of the Sapir Award for campaign achievement for our 2012 annual campaign.

 8:30 a.m.

Rochester delegation (Rick and Sherry Goldstein, Howard and Leslie Crane, Carolyn Nussbaum) heads off on text study and site visits. 

10:00 a.m.

I visited Amigour (www.amigour.com), a Jewish Agency housing project for the poor. We visited a repurposed aliyah center that now has apartments for the elderly, primarily aging Holocaust survivors originally from the former Soviet Union. We heard the stories of several of the clients, who have incomes, including their Russian pensions, of around $700 a month. Market value for similar apartments in the neighborhood is around $1,000 a month. Amigour residents pay around $60 a month, thanks, in part, to support from our unrestricted allocation for overseas needs. 

About a dozen elderly Russians entered the room, dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns, faces painted with theatrical makeup and genuine smiles. They performed half a dozen classic Yiddish songs, complete with choreography. The group is one of several choirs organized in the various Amigour buildings. 

Imagine (although I saw it) a dozen survivors, 80 and over, singing songs from their youth, despite those songs being illegal in their country for over 70 years. Singing with a passion and energy and flair that brought tears to their eyes …. and mine. They closed their performance dancing a hora with 5 MASA participants who accompanied us on the tour. 

A dozen survivors of WWII in Russia dancing in the basement of a senior housing facility in Israel with 5 American twenty-somethings. Unbelievable, but true, and it happened because of what we do.

 3:30 p.m.

Close to a thousand people gather outside the Jerusalem municipality to celebrate Israel and to close the GA. We hear from Mayor Nir Barkat; multi-portfolio Minister Naftali Bennett; and Natan Sharansky, hero of the Jewish people (and Jewish Agency Chair of the Executive) – each talks about a new paradigm of partnership between the State of Israel and the Jews of the world.

4:00 p.m.

The entire group marches through the crowded streets of Jerusalem to the Kotel. Rush hour drivers unamused, but seem supportive. 

Image5:00 p.m.

We gather at the new egalitarian platform for worship by men and women together, at the Southern Wall. The space is too small, too low, not yet lit. Imperfect for sure, but a first step for diversity and recognition of the variety of ways to be Jewish at this holy site.

 A cool breeze blows.

The call to Islamic prayer is heard from a mosque.

A male and a female rabbi chant the ancient mincha prayers.

The sun is going down … the sky darkens.

The chanting continues.

The last rays of the sun catch the stones of the wall and they begin to glow with an almost holy light … just as the chanting ends.

After words from leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements, and from Natan Sharansky, we sing Hatikvah, all together, with a gentle power I have never heard before.

 What a day, that captures so much of who we are as a people, a community, a Federation.

 We do amazing things.

 Layla tov from Yerushalayim

Larry Fine

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Day 7-8 February 2 Educators in Modi’in

Our Shabbat in Modi’in has come and gone all too quickly.  Each of us spent Friday evening and all day Saturday with his/her host family.  With the threat of rain by the Dead Sea, most ventured north to Zichron Ya’akov, Haifa, and beyond.  Three of us visited family for the day.   I had the good fortune to go with Aviva and her family to see Jerusalem Saturday night.  We indulged in delicious ice cream at a cafe in Ein Keren, which I had not visited in over 40 years, once an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem and now a bustling center of Israeli bistros.   From there we drove to Tayelet Armon HaNatziv – a promenade overlooking all of the city from the south to the east – truly “Yerushalayim shel malah” – the heavenly Jerusalem.   We arrived home at midnight – an early evening.

Today, Sunday, the delegation visited the Asif School matched with French Road Elementary School.  Hands down the faculty and children of this school are the happiest we have ever observed:  each Sunday first thing grade 6 sings for 20 minutes or so together in the gym – Israeli songs – which they sang to us and then invited us to dance with them, each taking a hand of one of us.  In the library Nava the principal welcomed us (and fed us) along with past delegates of Asif - Hani, Liat and Inbar.  In the spirit of Purim, one of the grades marched into the library, encircling us and singing the “When the month of Adar arrives, we increase our joy” song.   Grade 5 English class performed a Purim Spiel (Story of Esther) in English – hysterical, adorable, colorful, and with great pride!  We enjoyed a tour of this colorful school where student projects cover every wall.  At recess we found ourselves again mingling with mostly girls in the school courtyard dancing to “YMCA” and other American party songs.   We left the school around 10 a.m. to many hugs and kisses.

Next stop – Adam v’Hava – the Ecological Farm on the outskirts of Modi’in to learn about this educational center which functions in its entirety as an example of Perma-culture, Sustainability, Recycling, etc.  A highlight for this blogger was learning to make baskets from plastic supermarket bags and bracelets from slices of plastic bottles.  Our guides, Ora and Gili, are passionate about their work and their modeling is evident in the 12 Americans (really 11 Americans and 1 Australian) youth (ages 18  – 30) who have just arrived to spend the next 6 months living and learning on the Farm, including a recent graduate from the New York Culinary Institute.  An essential stop on our Farm tour was by Lou and Gene Spiro’s tree – that very small fig sapling in a container that they planted in 2006 (first delegation) in honor of their first grandchild.  The fig tree is now about 15 feet high and just as wide, albeit not yet in bloom this year.  We have a photo of the tree’s growth from each year of its planting.   We all decided that Adam v’Hava was a terrific place to visit, but perhaps not to sojourn.

Next stop – a brand new school this year – Avnei Chayn (Stones of Grace) in the Kaiser neighborhood where Aviva’s former Vice Principal (also Aviva) is the principal.  There we had lunch in the teachers’ room and enjoyed a workshop for the second year with Yael Gross, an educator from the Hartmann Institute who brilliantly wove a variety of texts from Camus to the Talmud to illustrate the power in the teaching and learning process and its long lasting effect on both teacher and student.

The Modi’in “Kanyon” (Mall) next provided both respite from brainwork and a destination for shopping (for some).   After quick stop at our host families, we all met again at Ayala’s (from Netiv Zevulun School) home in a suburb of Modi’in for our final get together.  In addition to the host adults, Hana and also Omri and Tzaki joined us - Chairs of P2G Steering Committee and Education Bridge respectively.  We all shared personal narratives, our gratitude for the gift of this journey and all it symbolizes, and watched both the video production of last fall’s Israeli delegates and the charming video produced by 3 of our delegates this week featuring kippah topped Avi Alligator, Hillel Community Day School’s Kindergarten class mascot, and Avi’s trip through Israel this week.  This year Aviva arranged for Bat Eilah, an Israeli singer/songleader to teach and lead us in song.  Both Israelis and Americans  participated with enthusiasm.  Ilan Adar got to play the shofar as an extra bonus.  Sated and embraced with genuine affection and attention by all, we parted for the evening.  Laila tov.

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Day 6 February 24 Educators in Modi’in

  • It is Rosh Hodesh Adar and the morning before Shabbat.  Quiet has already settled in Modi’in in the streets as most of the population does not work today.  Just the children go to school.  Purim is two weeks away yet today begins all the pre-Purim festivities in every school in the tradition of k’she-nikhnas Adar, marbin b’simkha – when Adar enters, we increase our joy.
  • Each member of the delegation spent the entire morning at his/her matched school.  I met Emily at Netiv Zevulun School in order to be her translator.   I was delighted to meet up again with faculty at Netiv Zevulun who have been on previous delegations:  Menachim, Principal, Ayala and Yael, along with meeting anew Oranit, Asst. Principal while Shoshi is on a sabbatical and this year’s Bridge Coordinator.  Oshrat, English speaking librarian, was again our chaperone for the morning.
  • The school was in happy turmoil today given that their activities from 8:00 a.m. until 12 noon dismissal comprised a Purim carnival and a play about recycling (the Ministry of Education has declared this year’s school theme as “healthy living”).  Thus Emily will visit her matched class, grade 1 on Monday morning.   Instead we visited three kindergarten classes which are on the same campus, but actually managed by the municipality and separate from the school.   Each of the classes was celebrating Rosh Hodesh – the new month – with special songs and snack.  In the first class, there were 4 English speakers who were excited to practice their favorite English words with us:  yes, no, snow, mommy, daddy, etc…  One child ventured to describe in English how the wind last weekend blew down their swing and the roof and his father ran down the street to retrieve the swing.  Truth, or a young child’s memory we will never know.  The snack in both classes centered on making faces on sandwich bread with humus and cut up vegetables almost 35 of which Emily and I were required to photograph.  In the first 2 classes there were 1 teacher and 1 aide, for 35 five-year-olds, certainly not what we are used to.  The third class named “special ed” comprised 10 speech delayed children, most of whom will go to regular classrooms next year.  Emily and I remarked that in the US all of these children would be mainstreamed.  It rained for the first time for us during  the morning.  We ended our visit watching the last half of the play by a professional educational theater.  The story line centered on two criminal polluters antagonizing a forest ranger.  All three continued to threaten their opponent with pointed guns, to the students’ delight and to Emily’s and my own shock – again a phenomenon that just would not take place in our own school system.   On the way out the oldest grade presented  us guests with a slice of pizza, part of their fundraiser for an end of year party – commendable business initiative by such young entrepreneurs.

From Netiv Zevulun, we met up with our colleagues to go by bus to the Nakhalat Binyamin Arts Market and Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv for a quick felafel lunch and shopping for 2 and a half hours.  The rain in no way squashed our group’s shopping enthusiasm.  We returned to Modi’in at 4:30 p.m., each of us to spend Shabbat with our host families.  Ilan and I attended Kabbalat Shabbat services at Yozma – reform synagogue in Modiin, where coincidentally the visiting American group was from my husband’s previous congregation in Pearl River, New York – bashert or coincidence?  Aviva, Modi’in’s Education Bridge Coordinator and my own most gracious and giving host, made Shabbat dinner for all her children and grandchildren, Ilan and his host, former delegate David Sharbi and his family, and Alon Schmidt, former delegate, and his family – endless homemade delicacies, engaging conversation, simkha – a perfect way to end the week!  Laila tov (very, very late).

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Day 5 February 23 Educators in Modiin

Today again began at 8:00 am, meeting our bus driver, Alex, and guide, Noam, at the Iriya – City Hall.  Alex proudly explained that his name is not Russian – he has lived in Israel all his life.  Indeed, the name stems from Alexander the Great who was persuaded by the local residents during his conquest of ancient Israel not to besiege Jerusalem.  That very year all the new born sons were named Alexander and the custom still holds in some families. 

Speaking of names, our guide is Noam Shalom Savion, born in 1978.  This blogger’s son is also Noam Shalom, born in 1978 – what we may call “bashert.”  

Today was our day to travel north.  We traveled on Highway #6 to Haifa, stopping for the customary arukhat eser – 10 a.m. meal:  coffee and croissant for us.  In Haifa, we bundled up at the top of windy Mt. Carmel to view the Baha’i gardens and discuss the role of minorities in Israel.  From there we stopped for a few hours in Isfiya, one of the two Druze suburbs of Haifa.  Rafi, an 18 year old religious Druze, hopped onto our bus at the Paz gas station.  He is a student and a guide for groups visiting the Druze community.   We drove to the Halaby House, owned by the most prominent Druze family in the community, who operate several tourist “houses” to provide a traditional Druze environment and lunch. 

Rafi (really Ra’afat) described the Druze community, numbering in Israel about 120,000, made up of both secular and religious, and he especially focused on the very positive attitude of Druze towards Israel.  Only those Druze (20 %) who live in the Golan Heights do not serve in the Israeli army, having a strong pre-1967 allegiance to Syria.  Otherwise, all the secular Druze men serve in the IDF.  Only the religious Druze do not serve in the IDF because they are “too busy studying their very secretive Books of Wisdom,” originally an offshoot from Islam. 

Different from Islam, the religion of the Druze, according to Rafi, puts great emphasis on the equality between men and women and the personal choice of every Druze to be religious or secular.  

Along with this engaging presentation, we ate a traditional Druze meal on large trays with a few spoons, bread and no other utensils.  By the end of lunch it was clear that our group has bonded in every way. 

After lunch, another hour plus bus ride north along the Sea of Galilee to Tzfat, and a brisk dash to Rabbi Joseph Karo’s Sephardic Synagogue from the Middle Ages, followed by the Ari Ashkenazic Synagogue  – it was already after 3:00 p.m.   For those of you who graciously wished us well on our journey and gave us shliakh mitzvah – money for tzedakah in Israel, we deposited it here for the maintenance of these shuls.  The views today were outstanding – sunny and clear! 

Our group had enthusiasm for all sites great and small – from the goats on a city rotary island to the 10 or so ancient Sephardic Torah scrolls in the Karo Synagogue.  Fortunately we squeezed in an hour for Tzfat shopping – a ketubah, a hamseh, Michal Negrin jewelry, Madonna red string bracelets – we bought it all. 

We ended the day with another long ride to Caesaria where we dined by the sea and were enchanted by the lit up ruins (albeit already closed for the day) and the waves lapping peacefully against the Mediterranean shore.  The meal of salads, pizza, pasta, and chocolate mousse torte continues to ensure that we will not be able to fit into the airplane to return to the US. Oh well.. . . Laila tov!

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Day 4 February 22 Educators in Modi’in

Today is Wednesday already!  We began our day at the newly built Democratic School.  Gil, the principal, graciously and patiently explained the philosophy behind this open and free school for grades K – 12 where students virtually run the school along with deciding on their own from age 6 what to study, what not to study, when to play and when to work, etc.  Ethics and emotional health and personal interests tower over knowledge requirements.  The result is a more confident youth/adult used to making mistakes and being human.  We visited the “houses” of the different grade clusters and chatted with 4 of the teens, each of whom demonstrated maturity and great love for the school and the opportunites it affords them.  We educators were really thinking about education without the ‘oppression’ of grades and the usual measurements for academic success.  The children at the Democratic School are happy, love their teachers and their peers.  From there we went by cars to Ironi aleph High School to be welcomed warmly again by Senior High School Principal, Dvir, and Junior High School Principal, Diti, a past delegate to Rochester along with Raheli Levinger, also a past delegate, 9th grade English teacher and host to our delegate Michelle Tuyn.  In addition to Dvir’s lucid and thoughtful description of this stellar arts and science school’s philosophy of nurturing the individual talent and growth of Jewish/Israeli identity, we enjoyed our cake and coffee and engaged in an honest and wholly interactive conversation with 8 students, 2 of whom had attended Seeds of Peace in Maine last summer (encounter between American, Palestinian and Israeli teens) and 3 from our own JFI IV – Yaara, Matan, and Shaham (what a reunion of repeated hugs and kisses).  The Israeli teens were primarily focused on their upcoming army service and observed that American youth do not have to deal with such serious issues of life and death.  That said, all acknowledged that they have much to learn from their American counterparts about Judaism.  Our afternoon in Tel Aviv included a walk through Neve Tzedek, the city’s earliest neighborhood, a  boxed lunch on Rothchild Boulevard followed by the quintessential visit to Ulam ha’atzmaut – Independence Hall, then to the Rabin Center for Peace for almost 3 hours – a deeply moving and informative experience of Yitzchak Rabin’s life parallel with the history of the establishment of the State of Israel, under the guidance of a brilliant guide (Tzvika) - a must Israel experience for this blogger.  For the second year we dined at Bariba on the Port of Tel Aviv – a kind of organic, vegetarian and fish restaurant – delish!  In fact, we learned that the name stems from “Bari  -  ba” meaning  ‘healthy in it’.  One of our Israeli colleagues would have preferred “grill” and not so healthy food and commented halfway through the main course that we would probably have some kind of carrot dessert – and so it was carrot cake and granola cookies, along with mint leaf water, mint leaf lemonade and mint leaf tea.  We left Tel Aviv port at 9 ish – an early night.  Laila tov!

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Day 3 February 21 Educators in Modi’in

Aviva and I met our Rochester colleagues in front of Hut HaShani Elementary School at 8:00 a.m.  This is a new school for us chosen because they have already integrated a Jewish values and “Friends Across the Sea” program in their school and wish for a match school in Rochester.  Weather was a balmy 50 degrees or so, and very sunny!  We were warmly welcomed in the school library (also the miklat- shelter) by the principal, called Rita by colleagues and students.  There the school choir sang “Lu Y’hi” (Let it be) and afterwards a half dozen incredibly articulate 4rth – 6th graders explained to us (in Hebrew with translation) why they think it is important for them to learn Jewish traditions and values in school.  A tour followed, including the ubiquitous ecological garden (in every school), and the opportunity to visit a “Friends Across the Sea” class in motion.  We concluded our tour with a full Israeli breakfast (with fresh, homemade pita from the school administrative assistant) and joining at least 50 children for a recess flash dance in the courtyard.  Rita summed up the success of this 5 year old school (with close to 700 students) as a “family”.   On to Dorot School, matched hitherto with Temple Beth David and looking for an additional school match in Rochester for its large student population.  Dorot is one of the first 3 schools to have opened in Modiin 16 years ago.  Its principal, Vered Albo, and 4 of its teachers have already visited rochester on a delegation.  Once again, we met in the library/shelter for an intro, followed by a tour of this art filled and happy school and time in 3-4 classrooms with the students.  Our bus and guide for the next 3 days, Noam, from Kibbutz Amir in the north, met us at Dorot School for our Jerusalem experience the rest of the day.  Our guide at Yad Vashem was the most knowledgeable and moving presenter in my recent memory.  We ate lunch at Yad Vashem, toured for almost 2 and a half hours, incuding the heart-wrenching Children’s Memorial, and then off to Herzl Museum on Mt. Herzl.   It was dark when we exited the museum so we were unable to visit Herzl’s grave and the Military Cemetery.  We definitely need more daytime hours!  Off to the Old City through traffic and the golden aura of sunset in Jerusalem.  We just made it in time for 10 minutes visit by the Kotel and our 7:00 p.m. (precisely) reservation to walk the the tunnels under the wall – truly mind-boggling to walk among the restored structure from ancient times.   We ended our day dining (really gluttonizing) at a charming restaurant near Nahalat Shiva (sorry – no time for shopping at the wonderful craft stores in this neighborhood of Jerusalem) called “Grill Bar.”  Even we vegetarians were able to enjoy no less than 10 different salads and warm and thoroughly enticing pita again.  We arrived back in Modi’in at 10 p.m.  Laila tov!

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Day 2 February 20 Educators in Modi’in

Higanu- We have arrived!  The flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv was smooth and uneventful.  No one in our group was asked to switch seats.  No one complained about the lack of leg room, the narrow aisles, the “gourmet” airline food, the long lines and hour wait  at Passport Control at Ben Gurion airport, or even the balmy and sunny 60 degree weather.  We were welcomed with warm smiles and many, many hugs from our partners in Modi’in, Hana and Aviva.   It was truly a joy to be with old friends and colleagues.  All the home hosts joined us at Idanim School along with Moish Levy, Deputy Education Mayor of Modiin and past delegate Alon Schmidt, Manager of Cultural Activities in Modi’in, and Hana.  We received our “goody bags” with the outstanding itinerary for our 8 days in Israel, along with folders with the new P2G logo, maps, water and snacks.  After the expected and appreciated coffee and cake, we were all off to our hosts for the night with continuing smiles and anticipation of the experiences to come beginning with tomorrow morning’s first school visit at 7:45 a.m.  Laila tov!

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