The Beleaguered Tenants of ‘Kushnerville’ – by Alec MacGillis

Jared Kushner was raised in a traditional Jewish home with, allegedly, traditional Jewish values. However, as this exhaustive article reveals (it was written by Alec MacGillis and co-published with the New York Times Magazine), Jared never understood that among the most important purposes of Torah law and rabbinic legal tradition is to curb the acquisitive instinct and to instill a sense of justice and compassion in every Jew and in the Jewish community as a whole.

I suggest that whatever Jewish education Jared received, he learned little despite being observant today, and his teachers, despite what I would imagine were noble efforts, failed to instill in him the moral and ethical spirit of Judaism and the Jewish people.

As someone who takes seriously the rabbinic principle Kol Yisrael acharei zeh la-zeh (Jews are responsible for one another), when learning of stories like this one I feel enormous shame.

The article focuses on the following story line:

Tenants in more than a dozen Baltimore-area rental complexes complain about a property owner who they say leaves their homes in disrepair, humiliates late-paying renters and often sues them when they try to move out. Few of them know that their landlord is the president’s son-in-law.

Israeli Bright Light #8 – Yad b’Yad (Hand in Hand) Bi-Lingual Jerusalem High School

As we walked the halls of the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School for students grades kindergarten through 12th grade (the school was founded in 1998 with 20 students and today has 696 students enrolled), the students were passing together between classes, laughing and talking as one might expect in any high school in Israel or America. But this is a different kind of school and there was much more than meets the eye here.

The students all appeared alike, but this is not a normal secular Israeli high school. It is a bi-lingual school, an experiment in bringing the diversity of students that live in Jerusalem together to learn about each other, to hear each other’s narratives, to discover the beauty in each other’s respective cultures, to work through stereotypes and prejudices, and to become friends and partners in a shared society.

The school is a microcosm of Jerusalem’s urban diversity and has students coming from Jewish and Arab neighborhoods all over East and West Jerusalem and includes Arab Christian, Muslim, Armenian Christian, Druze, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, and Ethiopian Jews, and increasingly more religiously observant Jewish students.

The high school is like all good academic Israeli secular high schools, but Yad b’Yad includes what the directors describe as “a unique and supportive environment as our students become teenagers and prepare for life as adults after school, with dialogue groups, expressive arts, volunteering, and extensive civic studies.”

In the elementary school, all classes are taught by one Jewish and one Arab teacher. The kids learn Hebrew and Arabic, and the reality of racism and violence that characterize so much of the contact between Israelis and Palestinians does not exist here. It is what Mohammed Darawshe, the Director of Givat Haviva, told us is “a perfect model of a school in a shared society.”

Yes, Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have different perspectives and experiences than do Israeli Jewish citizens. But they talk and argue and listen and become friends.

I was moved deeply when I heard that during tense times such as the recent knife terror and the crossing points between East and West Jerusalem closed, Palestinian students living in East Jerusalem could not get home from school that is located in the southern area of West Jerusalem within sight of the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo beyond which is Bethlehem. So, what did they do? The Israeli Jewish students invited the East Jerusalem Palestinian students to stay in their homes until the checkpoints opened again. This could last days to weeks.

The school’s founders and leadership describe its mission as follows:

“Our Mission at Hand in Hand is to create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel through a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools and organized communities. We currently operate integrated schools and communities in six locations with 1,578 Jewish and Arab students and more than 8000 community members. Over the next ten years, we aim to create a network of 10-15 schools supported and enhanced by community activities, altogether involving more than 20,000 Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens. Jews and Arabs – learning together, living together – and inspiring broad support for social inclusion and civic equality in Israel.”

Yad b’Yad is yet another grassroots effort to bring peace to the land of Israel/Palestine. Truly a bright light in our journey as a Temple Israel of Hollywood Leadership mission to Israel.

See the Yad b’Yad website for more information –

Israeli Bright Light #7 – Street Art and South Tel Aviv Galleries

Note: To see the art I describe below, go to my Facebook page –
It isn’t graffiti. It’s street art, and there’s a lot of it in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood, a run-down transitional section of the seaside city that attracts hipsters, art lovers, and Israelis of every background and origin.

The art is painted liberally on the sides of buildings, in doorways, on lampposts, and on virtually anything stable in the street. This art tells many stories. Most of it is unsigned.

Niro Taub, an artist, and a graduate of the Faculty of Visual Communications at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design was our guide. As we walked the streets, he spoke of the combined currents of history, culture and society, the symbols that are uniquely Israeli and part of western popular culture.

Below are three examples:

The first is a Hebrew inscription over an apartment building door that contains the first three words of Psalms 137:5 (“Im esh’ka-chech Yerushalayim… – Should I forget you, Jerusalem,…”).

The Biblical verse continues (vs 5 and 6): “…May my right hand wither. May my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not recall you if I do not set Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (Translation by Robert Alter)

The second line reads “Zeh big’lal Tel Aviv” (It’s because of Tel Aviv).

Together, the Hebrew (written in a Biblical font) is this: “Should I forget you, Jerusalem, it’s because of Tel Aviv!”

The calligrapher/artist simply and poignantly focused on the wide chasm between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The ancient and holy city of Jerusalem is inherently conservative, constrained and fraught with tension between Haredi and non-traditional Jews, between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis, political right and political left. The modern largely secular Jewish city of Tel Aviv is far more laid back. It is alive with art, music, restaurants, galleries, cafes, high-rise coastal hotels stretching from Jaffa to the Tel Aviv port, and a beach community that draws thousands of runners, bicyclists, and strollers, young, middle age and old, every day of the year.

The second photo is a mural of a huge black horse (notice the small car at its base on the street) that was painted by an unknown artist on the side of this large building in the middle of one night. How he/she did it is a curiosity. We wondered what it might mean, but that is part of the appeal. The art is meant to engage the viewer to muse in one’s own thoughts and come to one’s own conclusions.

The third mural depicts seven internationally famed musicians, songwriters and singers who died from a drug overdose at age 27. Included in this rendering is Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Amy Winehouse. The rubbed-out figure at the far right is the mural’s artist.

This street art creativity is, in my view, an Israeli bright light that’s not widely known or appreciated in the west, and it ought to be.

Israeli Bright Light #6 – An Ethiopian Israeli Woman’s Journey

Batya Shmueli grew up living on the banks of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. When her family landed at Ben Gurion Airport in 1991, she remembers that her grandfather bent down and kissed the runway tarmac to express his intimate joy for the land he had prayed for his entire life. She recalls being stunned to see white Jews because in Ethiopia all Jews were black. With her family, she lived in a caravan adjacent to a small town in the Galilee.

As a teenager, Batya sought to fully identify as an Israeli girl and leave behind her past as an Ethiopian Jew. She recalls rebelling against her family’s traditions and taking on all things Israeli. She learned Hebrew, did very well in school, had lots of friends, dressed and behaved as young Israeli teens do. Her new life, however, contrasted dramatically with the traditions of her family and most especially with her beloved Ethiopian Jewish grandfather who was not at all happy about the changes he witnessed in her.

After high school, Batya served in Israel’s Navy with an elite naval commando unit. ‎When she completed her military service and before entering the university, she traveled to New York but felt overwhelmed by the city, and then west to Los Angeles (a bit less intense) where she lived for a year in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood populated by thousands of Jews. She worked at the Israeli Haifa Restaurant, made friends, and attended an orthodox shul.

Being far from her family and friends Batya yearned to return home. However, her grandfather, whom she loved so dearly had died, and she regrets to this day that she didn’t reconcile with him and thank him for the Ethiopian Jewish traditions that he sought to sustain in her family.

Batya discovered much about herself during her formative years. Especially, she learned what it means to be Israeli with Ethiopian Jewish ancestry and roots. She learned that everyone is accountable, that playing the victim to outside forces that sought to keep her down is self-destructive, that she could create her own life anew. She learned as well the importance of placing value in her ethnic and religious tradition yet at the same time to participate fully in the general Israeli culture. As a young person growing up in Ethiopia and Israel, she learned how important it is to clarify her goals, to learn as much she could, and to work hard to fulfill her dreams.

Upon Batya’s return to Israel, she entered the University of Haifa, received her Bachelor’s Degree studying teaching and the history of the Jewish People. She married, became the mother of three children, and now serves as Resource Development and Community Relations Manager for Yemin Orde Youth Village in the Carmel region of Israel where she is responsible for finding established Israelis who are willing to give their time, experience and capital to help the students and graduates of Yemin Orde Youth Village succeed in Israeli society.

Batya is a bright, wise, thoughtful, practical, kind, and loving woman. She is one of several hundred full-time teachers and staff at Yemin Orde and is a compelling role model for the 435 teenagers who live there.

The students come on their own from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union (Russian, Ukraine, etc.), Poland, Turkey, Zimbabwe, France, Argentina, Brazil, and other countries. There is also native Israeli youth who come to the village from broken and dysfunctional homes and from tough crime-ridden Israeli neighborhoods. For all of them (boys and girls ages 14-18) Yemin Orde is their home, the only safe and nurturing home they have in Israel. Even after graduation, they return and stay close to their teachers and mentors to whom they owe so much.

Batya told us that Yemin Orde helps students to become honest, responsible, and accountable for what they do and don’t do, to take appropriate risks and accept their limitations, to cope with failure, to handle themselves with dignity when they feel that their teachers, future commanders, and bosses don’t like them, to seek help when they need it from teachers and counselors, to refuse to think and act as victims, to look forwards and not backwards, and to pursue their interests with passion, perseverance and commitment.

The educational philosophy executed by talented Yemin Orde staff such as Batya actually saves lives.

Over the course of the 64 years of its existence, Yemin Orde’s graduates have served in elite units of the army, become leaders in Israel’s hi-tech industry, in the law, medicine, science, education, and business. Some have risen as political leaders and become mayors of towns and cities, and even as Members of the Knesset.

In her own life, as a teacher, counselor, and staff at Yemin Orde, Batya Shmueli is among the brightest lights that my synagogue leadership group met in Israel.

Israeli Bright Lights #5 – Five Young Progressive Activists

TIOH Leadership Mission at Knesset


Temple Israel of Hollywood Leadership Mission before meeting with Members of the Kenesset

Ever since the 2011 Social Justice Protests in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities and towns that drew hundreds of thousands of Israelis from many socio-economic and religious backgrounds to protest the escalating rise in the cost of housing, food, health, and education, I have been particularly interested in what impact these protests have had upon the younger millennial generation of Israelis.

On our recent sojourn in Israel, I wanted my synagogue leadership to meet with young Israeli activists to find out, and so we invited five young women and men to join us for dinner in a downtown Jerusalem restaurant to talk.

The five are progressive activists ranging in age from their mid-20s to late 30s. The oldest of the group is Mikhael Manekin, a modern orthodox man who heads up a new initiative called “Israel Tomorrow.” He was a founding member of “Breaking the Silence.” Itai Gutler is a member of the Jerusalem City Council. Maya Peretz is the chief organizer of a labor organization called “Koach La-ovdim” and is an assistant to Zionist Union Knesset Member Michal Biran. Uri Keidar is a Jerusalem organizer on behalf of the American pro-Israel pro-peace group J Street. And Bar Gissim is a volunteer activist with the left-wing Zionist Meretz Party.

I asked each to introduce him/herself and explain what they do and why they do it.

The all inspired us. They are smart, well-spoken, sophisticated, politically savvy, and committed to the state of Israel not just as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but as a pluralistic, just, and free democracy serving equally all its citizens (Jew and non-Jew) and inhabitants. They are all political progressives, yet their concerns mirror those of Israeli society as a whole.

They spoke briefly about “hamatzav” (the “situation”) referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though all advocates for a two-states for two peoples resolution of the conflict, they are not hopeful an agreement will come about soon under the leadership of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who each are either incapable of leading their respective populations forward, or unwilling to do what it takes to do so.

As a founder of “Breaking the Silence,” an NGO of Israeli army veterans that has collected more than a thousand testimonies of soldiers describing their experiences in the occupied West Bank beyond the Green Line, I asked Mikhail what motivated him and those in that organization to speak out as they have (Note: “Breaking the Silence” has been targeted as an anti-Israel organization by many right-wing Members of the Knesset, though in truth these young women and men soldiers love Israel and want it to live up to the highest of moral standards and cease to be an occupying power over 1.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank).

He said that his group believes that Israelis must confess and face the truth about IDF soldiers’ abuse of Palestinians in the territories, that this abuse defies the high moral standards set by the IDF and that such abuse compromises the moral character of the state and sullies the soul of Israel.

I asked Jerusalem city councilman Itai Gulter (a young man in his early 30s whose wife had just given birth the prior week to their second child, a daughter – he was very tired!), what he thought were the greatest challenges facing him as a Jerusalem City Councilman.

Many of Jerusalem’s challenges are similar to those in any American city (e.g. providing equal city services, transportation, housing, employment, and filling potholes, etc.), but he noted that additionally, the religious character of the city that is home to a very large and poor Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population and a very large and poor Arab population are among the most pressing.

I asked Bar Gissim, a young graduate student and left-wing Meretz activist why she believed that Meretz has lost so many mandates in the polls (it once had 11 Knesset seats – it has 6 now). She acknowledged that the country has moved to the right politically, that the key issue on most Israeli’s minds is security and that the people crave a “strong man” as Prime Minister. I asked about the Jewish orientation of Meretz and whether its leadership may be losing a lot of Israelis because though most are not Orthodox, Israelis do identify with Jewish tradition in one way or another and that a complete lack of attention to its party as based in liberal Jewish moral values may lose many Israelis who might otherwise identify with Meretz’s political agenda. This is a criticism of Meretz I have heard for many years. Bar herself had not considered this.

Both Bar (a secular Jew) and Mikhail (an orthodox Jew), reflecting (I believe) the group as a whole, said that they do not act out of “Jewish moral values” per se, but rather out of democratic universal moral values.

I asked the group about the rising cost of living and how they themselves and young Israelis make ends meet. Though all of them live on their own and not with their families, they said that for them and middle-class Israelis, making ends meet requires most people to work more than one job and to depend upon multiple family incomes. At times, they confessed, their parents have helped subsidize them.

Our conversation continued for hours. The takeaway for us as American Reform Jews was that these young Israelis take seriously the obligations of citizenship and consider political activism and advocacy their civic and national duty. As such, they represent the best of and the hope of Israel.

We were heartened, as well, that these millennial Israelis were happy to meet with us who were so obviously interested in them, in their work, their values, their lives, what that think, believe and hope for Israel.

They are truly bright Israeli lights about which we American Jews can feel inspired and proud.




A Bright Light In Israel and the West Bank #4 – Rami Nafez Nazzal

Israeli Jewish tour guides are discouraged by the Israeli military administration from entering the West Bank to lead tours, so our Jerusalem tour operator (Daat/ARZAWorld Travel) engaged for us a Palestinian company “Beyond Borders Tours” and its founder, Rami Nafez Nazzal, to lead us.

Rami lives in East Jerusalem, carries a U.S. Passport, and is world-traveled due to numerous academic appointments, when he was young, of his distinguished professor parents Drs. Nafez and Laila Nazzal.

He was educated at the Anglican International School in West Jerusalem and later earned degrees in Business Management and Tourism from the University of Utah in 2003. From there Rami moved to Boston where he lived happily for seven years. But when his father told him that it was time for him to return home to East Jerusalem, he did so. Rami explained that when a Palestinian father makes such a “request,” the son complies whether he wants to or not.

When Rami returned to Jerusalem he founded “Beyond Borders Tours.” His facility with English and Arabic has gained him entry into many worlds. He is keenly intelligent, articulate and eloquent, good-humored and affable. His company grew.

Rami is also a journalist and regularly reports for Time Magazine, the New York Times, Reuters, and Der Spiegel on important stories related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His deep knowledge of the reality of Palestinian society enables his readers and those he guides to peer through a raw and authentic lens into the often difficult political and emotional terrain in both Palestine and Israel.

Rami was candid and honest with us, especially about the Palestinian predicament. He shared insights into Palestinian Muslim society, culture and family life and into the political, economic and social cross-currents that define so much of the life for Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank.

When Rami introduced himself to our group he shared his personal story as the son of academic parents. His first positive experience with a Jew wasn’t in Israel. Rather, it came in a close family friendship with the late Rabbi Leonard Beerman of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, who was my own childhood rabbi.

Leonard had told me about his and his wife Joan’s friends, Rami’s father and mother. As a child, Rami remembers spending time in the Los Angeles Beerman home. At the age of ten he first met Rabbi Beerman and couldn’t believe that Leonard was actually a rabbi not only because he didn’t appear Haredi, but because Leonard’s open heart to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, his principles, politics, and values were so unlike that of the Israeli Orthodox rabbis Rami observed in Jerusalem’s Old City.

I shared with Rami that Rabbi Beerman was among my most important rabbinic role models, and though Leonard and I didn’t always agree (e.g., unlike Leonard, I am not a pacifist), I loved and respected him for his principled life and remarkable rabbinic career, and I was touched by his pride in me which he shared so generously in his last few years of life.

Rami Nafez Nazzal is one of the very bright lights that my synagogue leadership tour encountered this past week in Israel and the West Bank. I recommend that anyone traveling to Israel also plan on spending time with Rami. You will not regret doing so. You can reach him through his website at


Israeli Light #3 – Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem of Holon, Israel

Israeli Light #3 – Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem of Holon, Israel

I received two urgent emails on Friday morning, May 5, asking me to contact Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem, the Rabbi of Kehilat Kodesh v’Chol in Holon, Israel with whom my congregation was in a sister synagogue relationship. Both asked me to extend Galit my emotional support.

One came from Rabbi Nir Barkin, the Director of Domim, a program funded jointly by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) that links Israeli synagogues with Diaspora congregations. The other was from my ARZA President, Rabbi Joshua Weinberg.

Earlier that day in Jerusalem, Rabbi Noa Sattat, the Executive Director of Israel’s Religious Action Center, asked me to give Galit a hug for her that night when my leadership tour would be spending Shabbat with her congregation.

None of the three explained what had occurred that provoked them to reach out to me. I am well aware of how challenging Galit’s work is and I assumed they were just encouraging me to be as supportive as I could be.

Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem began this Holon Reform community located southeast of Tel Aviv five years ago. A thriving city of 250,000 mostly secular middle-class Jews, it is fertile ground for the growth of non-Orthodox liberal Judaism. Given Galit’s keen intellect, open heart, liberalism, and her infectious enthusiasm, if anyone can build a community there, she can.

Kehilat Kodesh v’Chol does not yet have its own building. It rents space for services and classes and has enormous potential to be a center of Reform Jewish life in Holon. Its congregants include people of every walk of life and many highly educated and professionally productive members. For example, the community’s chair is Heidi Pries, a researcher, and lecturer at Tel Aviv University School of Social Work. Her husband Ori is a lead web developer in a Tel Aviv-based web company. Another member, Anat Dotan-Azene, is the Executive Director of the Fresco Dance Company and her husband Uri is the tech director of a leading post production sound studio for Israeli television and film. Another member, Michal Tzuk-Shafir, is a leading litigator in the Israeli Supreme Court and was President Shimon Peres’ (z’’l) legal advisor. Her husband Nir is an industrial engineer working as an information systems manager. Galit’s husband Adar is the former chief inspector of civic studies and political education of the Israeli Ministry of Education and is the soon-to-be manager of teachers’ training at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In association with her congregation, Galit created a Reform Jewish elementary school that is a part of Israel’s national secular school system. More than 100 children are enrolled in kindergarten, first and second grades and a grade is being added every year.

Despite all the activity, Kodesh v’Chol faces substantial financial and space challenges because unlike Israel’s orthodox synagogues and yeshivot, the Reform and Conservative movements receive no government funds due to the political hegemony of the Orthodox political parties.

In the secular city of Holon, Galit did not anticipate what was to take place the night before my leadership group joined her for Shabbat services, which turned out to be the reason for the two emails and Noa Sattat’s concern.

Galit’s elementary school had been offered classroom space in a Holon public school for this coming year by the Holon municipality, and a meeting was planned on the night before our arrival with all the parents. However, four uninvited parents from the public school that was hosting Galit’s congregation’s school crashed the meeting and began screaming obscenities against Reform Judaism, Rabbi Cohen-Kedem and the planned-for presence of the students in the local public school building.

They viciously threatened Galit and warned that the children themselves would be in danger should the congregation’s school be on the premises. They said that they would spit on the children.

Galit confessed to me that she lost her cool, but when I asked what that meant, it was clear (recalling Michelle Obama) that though Galit was deeply offended and upset by the behavior of these parents, ‘when they went low she went high.’

Galit called the principal of the school and though apologetic and embarrassed, she would not take action against the offending parents.

Galit called the municipal authorities who had given the Kodesh V’Chol School its space and demanded that they find new classroom space. At this time, we are waiting to learn where the school will be housed.

I and our group were stunned, but in hindsight, we should not have been surprised. The Reform movement in Israel still has a long way to go in establishing itself as broadly as possible.

At the moment the Israeli Reform movement attracts 8% of all Israelis. According to surveys, however, when Israelis are asked about their attitudes towards Reform and Conservative Judaism, between 30% and 40% say that if there were a Reform or Conservative synagogue in their neighborhood, they would attend.

I told Galit how proud I am of her for the dignity and resolve with which she stood her ground and responded with moral indignation to those offending parents. I was moved as well that she placed the welfare of the children first. She refuses now to use this public school out of concern for the well-being of the children.

I also expressed my own conviction that this ugly incident could be a watershed moment for her community.

When word spread of the Thursday night encounter, many more families showed up for services. There were more than a hundred men, women and children singing and praying together. The children came under a tallit for a special blessing. Modern Hebrew poetry and music was sung along with music from the American Reform movement. The service was warm-hearted, upbeat and joyful.

Galit delivered a passionate and moving sermon based on two verses from the weekly Torah portion Kedoshim (Leviticus 19) – “You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart” and “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”

She did not mention the incident from the night before, but everyone understood the context of her remarks.

Galit represented the very best of Judaism generally and the Israeli Reform movement specifically.

That was a Shabbat service I will never forget and Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem has shown herself to be one of the bright lights in the firmament of Israeli leaders.

Israel’s Bright Light – #2 – Mohammed Darawshe

Among all the remarkable people we met this past week, first among equals is Mohammed Darawshe, the Director of Planning, Equality and Shared Society at the Givat Haviva Educational Center located inside the Green Line in the middle of the country.
Mohammed had visited my congregation several months ago in Los Angeles, so when meeting him in Israel, it felt like two friends reuniting.
Givat Haviva houses The Center for a Shared Society which, as GH’s website notes “aims to build an inclusive, socially cohesive society in Israel by engaging divided communities in collective action towards the advancement of a sustainable, thriving Israeli democracy based on mutual responsibility, civic equality and a shared vision of the future.”
Givat Haviva’s work draws together neighboring Jewish and Arab municipalities to create ties and initiate joint projects in the fields of economy, education, and culture. It promotes joint educational projects and youth encounters, a joint industrial park, a river restoration project, establishment of a regional bike trail, and construction of a shared football stadium.
Every day, hundreds of Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab students mingle together in joint classes and in social contact on GH’s educational grounds. One project called “Children Teaching Children” brings pairs of Arab and Jewish students together in intense dialogue to break down negative stereotypes of each other.
Mohammed initiated a program to introduce Jewish teachers into regional Arab schools and Arab teachers into regional Jewish schools that resulted in a dramatic reduction of racism in those communities. Givat Haviva fosters understanding of the “other” national group and nurtures the feeling that there is, indeed, a shared destiny between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. So many of its programs rely on a partnership with mayors, municipal education department heads, school principals, administrators, and teachers.
One very effective program is called “Youth Delegations” in which three delegations of Jews and Arabs came together from local communities to interact with youth from Germany and Poland. The first European delegation visited Givat Haviva in early November, and the Israeli Arab/Jewish delegation visited Germany and Poland in late November. In Israel, the delegation focused on German Jews living in a Jerusalem seniors’ home and the students visited Yad Vashem. In Europe, the Arab/Jewish delegation toured Berlin together and focused on the plight of refugees of all four nationalities at the end of WWII.
The second delegation brought 18 Arab students from Baka el-Garbiya and Menashe who are active in youth movements with 12 German youth from the Einstein Gymnasium in Berlin. They spent 5 days participating in intensive workshops on “Dictatorship and Democracies – The Fragile Border between Them” and focused on the GDR period and democracy in Israel, Germany, and East Europe.
The third delegation, with 20 youth from Megiddo and Kafr Kara hosted their German and Polish peers for a week in December. They focused on “Dialogue Methods According to Martin Buber”, studied Buber’s biography and philosophy, and met with his granddaughter and great-granddaughter, Tamar Goldstein, a noted peace activist. They also met with Paul Mendes-Flohr, an expert on Buber’s philosophy.
Givat Haviva offers overseas English-speaking visitors Arab language study and to everyone studies in conflict resolution and mediation techniques.
Mohammed spoke to us at some length about a national study published in 2002 and acknowledged by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2007 that, indeed, Arab citizens of Israel are systematically discriminated against in virtually all areas of Israel’s national life even though they are granted equality as citizens according to Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Fifty percent of Arab Israeli children live under the poverty line, so scholarship support, intensified Hebrew instruction, computer training, and classes given on the site of the Givat Haviva campus offer Arab students an opportunity to prepare themselves to succeed in an advanced Israeli economy and job market.
A special challenge is to raise the economic and employment status of Arab women through education, enhanced Hebrew language facility, all of which depends as well on building more child care programs in order to relieve Arab-Israeli women to be able to enter the workforce.
Givat Haviva has developed social and business programs for Jewish Israeli women to join in partnership with Arab women. One such program is called “Women cook for peace.” Meetings are held in each other’s homes to share traditional recipes, customs, holidays, cultures, and intimate social contact.
Another program brings together Jewish and Arab women entrepreneurs in a series of lectures about running businesses, accounting, taxes, contracts, and marketing.
Yet another program prepares Arab and Jewish women to run for public office in municipal elections by giving them the knowledge and skills to run campaigns, be effective in public relations, work with the media, to network, and fundraise.
Mohammed is the driving force behind much of what is taking place at Givat Haviva. Its programs have literally affected thousands of Israeli Arabs and Jews. He is right to pursue a goal in which equality between Israeli Jews and Arabs is achieved to stabilize and strengthen Israeli society as a whole.
Mohammed is considered a leading expert on Jewish-Arab relations and has presented lectures and papers at the European Parliament, the NATO Defense College, the World Economic Forum, the Club de Madrid, the US Congress, the Herziliya Conference, and Israel’s Presidential Conference. He is the recipient of the Peacemakers Award from the Catholic Theological Union, the Peace and Security Award of the World Association of NGO’s, and was the Leadership Fellow at the New Israel Fund.
Our time with Mohammed was inspirational for my synagogue group.
 Mohammed Darawshe at Givat Haviva - May 2017.jpg

Israel’s Bright Lights #1

So much of media attention about Israel focuses on the negative. But there is overwhelming creativity, productivity, and goodness occurring daily that the world just does not see.

I have led five congregational missions over the past eighteen years and introduced two hundred individuals to Israel so as to understand Israeli lives, dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

I returned this week from the latest such trip and in this and the following entries, I will tell stories of people and projects that moved us deeply. I express gratitude to everyone we met and ARZAWorld Travel (i.e. Daat Travel in Israel) whose staff worked with me in putting this special itinerary together.

Our concerns transcended politics, though we met members of the Knesset, journalists, scholars, and activists who spoke to us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beyond them, we met leaders who are helping to create a shared society between Jews of all kinds and Israeli Jews and Israeli-Arabs. We visited schools for Jewish and Arab Israeli children studying together. We spent time with Orthodox women, Muslim Arabs, and Bedouin leaders striving to educate their community’s women so they can assume their rightful place in the workforce and lift them and their families out of poverty. We toured the seam-line on the Gaza border with kibbutzniks who have suffered thousands of mortar attacks. We met four extraordinary leaders of Israel’s Reform movement who are building communities all over the state and advocating a liberal, pluralistic, inclusive, and democratic society. We met with one significant Palestinian leader in Ramallah and with the head of the Yesha Council of Settlers over the Green Line in the occupied West Bank. We took a tour with the top expert in what is occurring in East Jerusalem.

To begin, in this blog I want to shine a light on two organizations that deeply inspired my group of synagogue leaders:

Yemin Orde Youth Village is located in the Carmel mountains and is named in memory of British Major General Orde Wingate who trained Palmach troops (the advanced striking force of the Haganah before the establishment of the State of Israel) including Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yigal Alon.

Established in 1953, Yemin Orde has welcomed thousands of children from North Africa, Iran, India, Yemen, Ethiopia, the nations of the former Soviet Union, Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, and France.

Most of the children came to Israel on their own without family. Some are Israeli-born who grew up in tough drug-infected and violent neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and development towns. At Yemin Orde they learned that they could live differently. There they found a home and a family that cared about them and consequently have been able to chart their own positive and productive futures.

Yemin Orde graduates have succeeded in the elite units of the Israeli Defense Forces, as university graduates and leaders in hi-tech, as mayors of towns and villages and as  Members of the Knesset, in business, the arts, and education.

There are 465 students (ages between 14-18) living at Yemin Orde and the youth village has a waiting list of 100 children. The staff gives each child emotional and psychological support so they can build their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, achieve academically and be productive Israeli citizens and leaders.

Yemin Orde receives two-thirds of its budget from the Israeli government and the rest comes from foundations and individual fundraising.

The second is The Orchard of Abraham’s Children – I visited this Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian Nursery School (ages 2-6) in Jaffa in February 2016 and blogged about it then. See

The story of the beginnings of The Orchard of Abraham’s Children is among the most inspirational stories we heard. A fine fiction writer could not have made this up.

Ihab Balha (a 47-year-old Muslim Sufi Palestinian-Israeli) and his wife Ora, a mid-30s Israeli Jew, met in the Sinai, fell madly in love, married each other the next day, transformed their families, an entire community, and the future of thousands of Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Now in its 7th year, The Orchard has 80 Jewish and Palestinian children and families.

There are many more positive and uplifting stories to come. Stay tuned.

An Assault on Holocaust Memory

The following was written by Alan Elsner, special advisor to the President of J Street. Alan is a journalist who formerly covered the State Department and the White House for Reuters. In this letter, he writes as a child of survivors.
I share Alan’s angst and deep concern about an assault on Holocaust memory.
He writes:
“Tomorrow, April 24, is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day — and never in my lifetime has it seemed more necessary or more relevant.
As the child of a Holocaust survivor, who himself is no longer here to testify, I have always felt a great personal responsibility to bear witness. I spent years collecting, writing and publishing my family’s tragic story.
I promoted the construction of memorials, both here in the United States and in Europe. Naively, I thought the battle over the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II had been won. After all, we succeeded in erecting Holocaust museums and memorials in every major US city — even in places like El Paso, Texas and Terre Haute, Indiana.
I watched with satisfaction as the Shoah was deeply ingrained and widely explored in US popular culture with movies like Schindler’s List, The Piano and Life is Beautiful, as well as many others. Several states — including New York, California, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey and Michigan — passed laws mandating that all children learn about the Holocaust in school.
The events of the past year have shattered my complacency.
First, as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump allowed his campaign to exploit images and memes clearly drawn from the history of anti-Semitism. Then, in February, his White House issued a statement on International Holocaust Memorial Day excluding mention of the Jews as primary target and victims of the historic crime against humanity.
Nearly two weeks ago, White House spokesman Sean Spicer outrageously claimed that Syrian President Assad’s use of poison gas against his own people exceeded in horror the Nazis’ industrial-scale use of poison gas to murder millions of people, primarily Jews. Spicer showed his insensitivity and ignorance by coining the cleansing term “Holocaust centers” to describe the Nazi extermination camps.
As if this was not enough, we also have the specter of a leading French presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, denying French culpability for the round-up and deportation of thousands of Jews to German camps, where most died during World War II.
In our own country and around the world, there seems to be a rising tide of discriminatory and exclusionist nationalism, exploiting fears and demonizing “the other” for political gain. Time and again, leaders of this trend have demonstrated a shocking disregard for the facts, details and lessons of the Holocaust.
Apparently, in an age of “fake news,” “alternative facts” and rising xenophobia, we can no longer assume that the facts of the Shoah are widely accepted, or even known. Spicer’s comments are instructive. Given the endless list of movies, books, plays, works of art and even graphic novels with Holocaust themes that have saturated the culture, it must have taken extraordinary efforts for someone like Spicer — an educated and well-informed individual in the thick of US politics — to close his eyes and ears to them.
Presumably, the message of the Holocaust is not one that they are much interested in hearing — or understanding.
What about the message might they find objectionable? Perhaps the fact that vilifying, demonizing and targeting an entire ethnic or religious group can lead to catastrophe? That refusing aid and refuge to refugees fleeing conflict can doom them to a horrific fate? That such acts of cruelty may begin small but have a terrifying way of expanding?
For those of us concerned with preserving Holocaust memory, there are lessons too. We must consider whether we have focused too much on the chronology and mechanics of the Shoah and too little on the universality of its message, on its urgency and continued relevance in our times.
I do believe that the Holocaust is a birthright we must handle with care. We cannot allow its lessons to be cheapened by misused or diluted by overuse.
But neither is the Shoah an historical artifact to be guarded and preserved in museums and archives. It is a living legacy that summons and challenges us in all of our political work here, in Israel and around the world.
It is a touchstone for all we do and all we are. And this year of all years, the challenge is stark and the task is clear.”
– Alan Elsner