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Israel travel … and more

Clockwise from top: THA 8th graders at the Israel home of Carol and Dan Karsch — top row (L-R) Rabbi Billy, Noam Shahar, Itai Kreisler, Joshua Girard, Matan Laytin, Benjamin Louchheim, Devin Hulsey, Shelby Kotz, Avigail Penner, David Rosman; middle row (L-R) Rebecca Slepian, Hannah Karsch Hochner, Dan Karsch, Carol Karsch, David Abraham (IDF commander in the tanks division), Marlene Abraham (THA teacher/chaperone); front row (L-R) Juliet Weintraub, Adina Artzi, Ron (Israeli guide), Eve Stone.

Tucson PNAI (Parents of North American Israelis) members Carol and Dan Karsch spent a month at their home in Modi’in, the city in which their daughter Hannah Karsch Hochner, son-in-law Jacky, and grandchildren Tanya, Hillel and Ayelet reside. During this time, Carol, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, and Dan, co-chair of the Israel Center, had an opportunity to visit some of the programs and agencies that our Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona help fund.

The Karsches hosted Tucson Hebrew Academy’s eighth-grade class during its end-of the-school-year trip to our homeland. “It was great to visit with Hannah, a former THA student who made aliyah in 1992,” said Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz, THA director of Judaic/Hebrew Studies. “The students truly enjoyed this ‘home away from home’ stop in Israel.”

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Michael, Jacob, Howard and Trudy Schwartz at Jacob's Bar Mitzvah at Yad Mordechai

The purpose of Trudy and Howard Schwartz’s June three-week Israeli sojourn was threefold: to celebrate their eldest grandson Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah; to reconnect with cousins they hadn’t seen in decades; and to stay in a rented Jerusalem apartment and feel like residents, rather than like tourists in a hotel.

Jacob, son of Adam (president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix) and Stacey Schwartz, became a Bar Mitzvah at Yad Mordechai. This kibbutz in our TIPS Partnership Hof Ashkelon region was the site of an important battle during Israel’s War of Independence. Jacob conducted a Monday morning service, chanted the Torah portion and led a discussion on the d’var Torah. He gave his interpretation of the Torah reading, first in Hebrew and then in English, to the surprise and delight of everyone, especially the Israelis. Yair Farjun, chair of the Hof Ashkelon regional council, presented the celebrant with a copy of Pirke Avot, and a group of Ethiopian women prepared lunch afterward. These women had visited Phoenix and Tucson as part of the TIPS Women’s Ethnic Cooking Project last fall, when Jacob struck up a friendship with them, leading them to offer to cater his simcha. Also, thanks to modern technology, the celebrants were able to Skype the entire service back to family members in the United States.

When the others in their family group of a dozen flew home, Adam, Stacey and their four children continued on to volunteer in Kiryat Milachi, also part of our TIPS region. They helped teach English and were welcomed with warm hospitality.

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Federation General Assemblies, Lion of Judah conferences, Bar Mitzvahs, a wedding, gatherings with relatives and friends, witnessing the growth of the Jewish homeland, and most important, “love of Israel.” These are the reasons Fern and Ed Feder have been repeat travelers to Israel 39 times… and counting.

For their special two-week stay in June, they took their granddaughter Rosanne and her husband Brian Carter (of Ireland). Rosanne had become a Bat Mitzvah in Israel and wanted Brian to experience the country that she fell in love with.

Briane and Rosanne Carter with Fern Feder in Caesarea

This year, Fern and Ed were especially impressed by:

• the new buildings, roads, parks, stores such as IKEA and restaurants viewed from their rented high-rise apartment in Netanya

• the improved exhibit and archaeological park in the Roman city of Caesarea

• how much the water had receded at the Dead Sea

• the number of young people out on a beautiful day in Tel Aviv, plus the plethora of cars and motorcycles between King George and Allenby Streets

• Rosanne and Brian’s insatiable quest for information at the new Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. “After visiting Yad Vashem,” said Fern, “one continues to ask, ‘Why?’”

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Ken Miller returned to Israel this summer, again as a staff member on the Tel Gezer Project’s archaeological excavations. This year’s

Ken Miller at excavation site

dig was focused on an ancient water system built in the Bronze Age, between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago. The system, which consists of a vertical shaft and tunnel reaching down to a natural spring at an incline of 40 degrees, was partially excavated 100 years ago but never finished. Miller’s group worked closely with the Israel Parks Authority to clear the tunnel of rocks and debris, intending it to become part of a future National Park system tourist site. Ken worked with an Israeli crane operator to bring out large sacks of debris weighing more than 500 pounds. Though they did not finish the excavation this season, they removed more than 100 tons of debris from the tunnel and plan to continue their efforts next summer, in conjunction with the larger excavation project.

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Lori Riegel, youth education director of Temple Emanu-El’s Kurn Religious School, completed the MOFET Seminar for Jewish Community Leaders and Teachers of Jewish Studies in the Diaspora. During this 21-day, intensive “boots-

Lori Riegel with Tucsonans Alayne and Bruce Greenberg, whom she met by chance in a wine shop in the Cardo, Old City, Jerusalem. (The Greenbergs were in Israel to welcome their newest grandson, Aden Hillel Greenberg.)

on-the-ground” program, study tours took place in Jerusalem, the Negev, northern Israel and Tel Aviv. Lori studied Jewish leadership through the ages, met with Knesset leaders, took artistic expression classes and attended sessions on Jewish life and history. The program was subsidized by the Israeli Ministry of Education. Lori participated with support from the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Foundations, having received the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in 2007.

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For 10 days in late June through early July, Naomi Present, 25, a native Tucsonan and graduate of THA, Rincon High School, Hebrew High and the University of Arizona, traveled with a busload of 39 young Jewish men and women on Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel.

In her own words: “We ‘discovered’ Eretz Yisrael. Among the many sites that we visited, walking the narrow lanes of the shuk (marketplace) on Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem while sampling the warm flatbread with zatar (Mediterranean herbs and spices), the rugelach, and the burekas (potato and/or cheese-filled pastries), with fresh vegetables and fruit everywhere you looked, truly made me feel like I was in another, unique world. We enjoyed Bedouin hospitality and spent the night in the peaceful Israeli desert. Celebrating Shabbat with other Birthright groups was simply amazing; hundreds of people from all over the United States and Canada coming together in the holiest city for the Jewish people, raising their voices in communal song in the communal language of our people.”

Naomi encourages all Jewish young adults ages 18-26 to apply for this free, educational, peer-group trip. According to Gidi Mark, CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, there are over 250,000 Birthright alumni since the program’s inception a decade ago. With the surge in demand, there is a waiting list of thousands for Birthright trips, which have been proven to strengthen Jewish identity, connection to the Jewish people and commitment to Jewish values.

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UA Hillel Executive Director Michelle Blumenberg traveled to Israel in June with her children, Avi and Eitan, and her mother, Liliane

UA Hillel Executive Director Michelle Blumenberg (second from left) surrounded by former UA Hillel staffers Racheli Marom, Aaron Pratt, Liraz Arkin, Shara Grifenhagen and Ayelet Dagan at reunion in Tel Aviv.

Blumenberg. While there, she had a perfect chance to gather the UA Jewish Alumni group in our homeland. On June 10, 14 alumni and former UA Hillel staff met at Burger’s Bar on Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv. Michelle said it was a great evening with non-stop conversation and catching up. Way to go, Wildcats!

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By completing the Hebrew High class, “The Israel Experience,” students can take advantage of a $500 subsidy from the Federation toward an accredited Israel teen trip. This year’s class was taught by Zach Arnstein, an American-born Israeli who has served in the Israeli army and is currently a UA graduate student. Four students availed themselves of this wonderful opportunity: Jonah Grant and Dara Lehrer went on the seven-week Poland/Israel Ramah Seminar; Sabrina Langer took part in the six-week Israel Ramah Seminar; and Abbey Roberts, with an additional stipend as the 2010 recipient of the Rabbi Oleisky Teen Recognition Award, traveled on United Synagogue Youth’s six-week Poland/Israel Pilgrimage.

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Shlichim Mor Rozenberg, 20, and Omri Margalit, 24, were summer camp counselors through the Jewish Agency for Israel at the Tucson Jewish Community Center’s Camp “J.”

Mor, from Kiryat Ono, had finished her compulsory army training and is now traveling before heading back to Israel to begin

Shlichim Mor Rozenberg and Omri Margalit at Camp "J."

university studies. She enjoyed interacting with the 6- to 8-year-old campers under her supervision. Her host families included Robin and Art Cohen, Suzanne Baron Helming and Bruce Helming, Moshe Issaharrow, and Heather and John Offerman.

Omri, from Or-Akiva, returned to Tucson for his third summer, this year as the Israeli culture specialist. He and fellow counselor Rachel Fox will tie the knot on Sept. 26 in Tucson, with a reception in December in Israel. Mazel tov to all.

Indian odyssey

For two weeks after Passover, Lois and Leon Thikoll set out on a tour of India. A month after their return, Lois was still exuberant about their fantastic adventure. From Delhi in the north to Cochin in the south, a knowledgeable guide and driver accompanied the couple in each city. For Lois, a travel agent who has traveled extensively, this sojourn was “way up there at the top” of the world’s destinations.

Leon and Lois Thikoff at the Taj Mahal

According to our travelers, India is a country of contrasts. Cars and semi-trucks drive next to camel-pulled carts, tuk-tuks (auto rickshaws), food carts and elephant parking lots. A high-rise building might tower over a neighboring outdoor laundry. Women dressed in colorful saris offset the drab terrain, and peacocks, the national bird, abound. The couple noticed what they thought were Jewish star symbols, only to learn that they represent something different — one triangle points upward for the male, the other downward for the female, and the lotus flower in the middle denotes a long, happy life.

In Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the Thikolls stayed in the Oberoi Trident, one of the hotels hit by terrorists in 2008, where security has since been improved. They stopped at Victoria Station (CST), a World Heritage site and the railway station featured prominently in the film “Slumdog Millionaire.” Lois and Leon visited the Magen David Synagogue, presently under renovation by the Sassoon family. It is one of the city’s many synagogues, with a Jewish school housed within the synagogue compound. The largest concentration of Indian Jewry reside in Mumbai, with the Bene Israel (“Sons of Israel”) community forming the predominant group.

In Cochin, our travelers were told that most of the Jewish community had emigrated, with only 10 Jews, mostly elderly, still living in “Jew Town.” The only functioning synagogue, Paradesi, is a major tourist attraction.

Other highlights included the famed Taj Mahal in Agra, but the pair claimed that “even more magnificent” was the Amber Palace in Amber Fort, with its carvings, inlaid jeweled glass, mirrors, marble, mosaics and paintings. En route to Jaipur was a stop in Fatehpur Sikri, a city that is now a perfectly preserved ghost town since its water dried up. In Kumarakom, “the Venice of India,” our tourists took a backwater cruise through the canals, including a visit to the Vembanad Bird Sanctuary.

Time to share

A new year ahead … Keep me posted — 319-1112. L’shalom.

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