In my 20 years of writing this monthly column from September through May, the Rosh Hashanah issue has traditionally highlighted Israel summer travel. This article is no exception. Enjoy!
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Another year, another Tucson Hebrew Academy eighth-grade Israel Discovery trip before middle school graduation. This was the school’s 10th trip to Israel, with a total of 150 pupils taking this rite-of-passage journey.
The pupils included Austin Anderson, Abigail Ben Shabat, Jacob Bernstein, Joshua Blinkoff, Alexandra Block, Ilan Davidowitz, Anthony Estrella, Rachel Freund, Adina Karp, Jacob Kaufman, Daniel Lester, Ethan Manninen, Bernard Silverman, Eli Soyfer, Molly Stack, Calli Townsend, and Adina Weiner-Bogielski. Chaperones were Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz, THA Judaics director, and Ronnie Sebold, THA admissions director, who was affectionately referred to as the students’ “mom away from mom.” The group was joined by Yoni Shtern, an Israeli tour guide.
On May 18, the class embarked on a 10-day itinerary organized by tour operator Oranim. Whether visiting the usual tourist sites or hiking in Gilabun Canyon, kayaking on the Jordan River, ascending and descending Masada, swimming (floating) in the Dead Sea or riding a camel at a Bedouin encampment, the travelers explored a multi-faceted Israel.
On their first night in Jerusalem, the group strolled, shopped and enjoyed the delicious Israeli ice cream on Ben Yehuda Street. They were joined by Emily Singer, a THA graduate who made aliyah in 2009, just completed her M.A. in political science from Hebrew University, and is working as a development associate at the Israel Religious Action Center. Walking en masse, they met Bryce Megdal, another THA alumna who was finishing her spring semester abroad at Hebrew University before returning to the University of Arizona this fall as a senior majoring in Judaic studies. Bryce recognized Calli Townsend in the group. When Bryce was in the eighth grade and Calli in first grade, Bryce was Calli’s “eighth-grade buddy” at THA. As Ronnie proclaimed, “This is a wonderful example of the THA family in action!”
At the end of the trip, hours before Shabbat, the entourage visited Mount Herzl. A strapping Israel Defense Forces commander, wearing an eye patch and arm brace, approached the group and brought them to the gravesite of Roi Klein. Klein was the officer who, during the second Lebanon War in 2006, sacrificed his life for his fellow soldiers when he threw his body on a Hezbollah hand-thrown grenade. The students had learned this story during a THA current affairs lesson on Israel. The teary-eyed commander was flabbergasted when Roi’s father joined them graveside. He visits the cemetery every Friday to wish his son “Shabbat Shalom.” The father was so impressed and grateful that the students knew his son’s heroic story that he warmly embraced and kissed each student. As Rabbi Billy tells it: “The amazing revelation dawned upon the students that, yes, they are students from Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A., but here in Israel, we are all one family.”
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May 2011 was Birthright Israel Month. The foundation celebrated sending nearly 300,000 Jewish young adults to Israel and announced the goal of sending 51,000 participants to the Jewish homeland annually by 2013. This means that one in every two young Jewish adults worldwide would participate in a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip.
On May 17, in our own community, Shelly Silverman chaired a dessert reception held at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Two IDF soldiers, 1st Sgt. Tomer Bucher and Lt. Lipaz Ela, spoke of what they reaped from their Birthright experiences. Joining the North American groups on their Birthright buses, they made lasting friendships, taught about Israeli life, and became role models to inspire their American peers.
Among the speakers that evening was Laura Wilson Etter, UA Hillel director of engagement. A 2001 University of Washington student and Birthright Israel participant, Laura spoke of how, upon her return, she related the Birthright experience to her peers, felt a stronger Jewish identity, studied Hebrew, took part in Shabbat dinners, married in the faith, and now staffs these trips as a Hillel professional. In short, she carries the Birthright gift with her and passes it on to others.
Tucson young adults who partook in this free, 10-day Israel trip this past spring/summer included Alexander Avigdor, Rebecca Beckmann, Moriah Flagler, Alexsey Kashtelyan, Samantha Lehrman, Heide Markzon, Adam Oseran, Alexa Peckham, Caitlin Rowan, Peter Ruiz and Lily Wool.
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From June 19 to 22, the joint steering committee of our TIPS Partnership, made up of representatives from Tucson, Phoenix, Seattle, our sister city of Kiryat Malachi and the Hof Ashkelon region, met in Israel. Tucson committee members included Guy Gelbart, community shaliach; Diane Weintraub, TIPS committee member/founder and co-founder of the Israel Center; and Ken Brandis, TIPS people-to-people committee chair.
TIPS is funded by the Federation campaigns in Tucson, Phoenix and Seattle. The meetings focused on the ongoing projects that we support, determining if past goals were met, considering continued funding, and implementing new projects. The committee decided to continue funding the award-winning Art City, Youth Council, Sports-for-All and Young Adults Council in Kiryat Malachi, and the Youth Club, Sports-for-All, and Young Adults Council in Hof Ashkelon. Target age groups are youth 12-18 and young adults 18-35, with the hope of empowering the next generation. We take great pride that Kiryat Malachi schools won the Israel Education Prize this year for demonstrating the most impressive improvement in education. The Women’s Ethnic Cooking Project members, who created the delicious “Israel Ethnic Epicurean Gala” at the JCC last November, prepared two dinners for the committee during their meetings.
The people-to-people program’s mission is to connect our youth, teens, young adults and adults with their Israeli counterparts for lifelong relationships. Possible future people-to-people projects include reciprocity with an Israeli papier-maché sculptor and Art City dancers/bandsmen, traveling to our respective communities to share their talents.
Home hospitality was provided by Israeli committee members. On Shabbat at a synagogue in Kiryat Malachi, Ken had the opportunity to meet Moshe Katsav, the former president of Israel. Ken noted, “This ‘one-on-one’ is the ultimate meaning of gaining perspective and knowledge of Israelis.”
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From June 8 to July 18, Ken Miller, an archaeologist and UA graduate student, spent six weeks on the staff of the archaeological excavations at Tel Gezer in Israel. This was the fifth year that he has worked at this site and the sixth consecutive on an Israeli excavation. Tel Gezer, one of the fortified Solomonic cities, is mentioned in the book of Chronicles, having been given to King Solomon by Pharoah for marrying Pharoah’s daughter. This year’s goals were to excavate and display a major 10th century BCE city. The digs were successful, also reaching areas that dated to the Egyptian, Canaanite and Philistine periods.
Ken had time to travel around Israel with friends and associates, and had access to archaeological sites not yet open to the public. He also visited Kibbutz Be’eri in the Negev, where he’d lived as a volunteer during and after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Last fall, Ken, an America-Israel Friendship League board member, chaperoned seven high school juniors to Washington, D.C., New York, and Israel through AIFL. He plans to accompany six high school students on a similar trip this fall.
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From June 17 to July 12, Rina Liebeskind, a sabra and education director at Congregation Or Chadash, traveled to Israel, where in addition to visiting family, she attended a two-and-a-half week educational seminar hosted by Israel’s famed Mofet Institute, a nonprofit institute established for educators and funded by Israel’s Ministry of Education. Rina secured funding for the trip with a grant from the Federation’s CEDS committee (Coalition of Jewish Educators) and assistance from Congregation Or Chadash.
“Leadership for the Ages,” the theme of the conference for Jewish community leaders and teachers in the Diaspora, was woven into all aspects of the program. In Jerusalem, the educators explored the City of David, the Davidson Center with its archaeological dig, the Kotel with its tunnels, and the Knesset. In the Negev, they participated in a workshop at Midrashat Sde Boker about David Ben Gurion’s leadership dilemmas during Israel’s tumultuous beginning. They visited Yerucham, a development town that has grown over the years and is a living testament to Ben Gurion’s dream to populate the Negev. In Tel Aviv, they visited the Palmach and Hall of Independence museums. They walked the streets of beautiful Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv’s first neighborhood, attended a moving Shabbat service on the beach, and took part in a three-day Hebrew course. North to Zichron Yaakov wine country, the Atlit deportation camp, and the Golan Heights where they visited a Talmudic village in Katzrin as well as battlefields and strategic points along the Syrian border. Spiritual Safed was their last stop before heading back to Tel Aviv for summation and the closing ceremony for this treasured experience.
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Ital Ironstone, 16, a junior at City High School, traveled on BBYO’s Israel Journey Plus from June 28 to July 25. Before she left, our traveler participated in the Israel Center’s Beth Weintraub Schoenfeld Memorial Israel Experience, a two-day teen retreat on Mount Lemmon. She received a subsidy toward her trip through this program.
Journeying from the Galilee in the north to the tropical Red Sea in the south, Ital experienced kibbutz life and took part in a Gadna elective. Gadna is an Israeli military program that prepares youth for mandatory military service. Ital cited this week of discipline and military training as one of the highlights of her trip — “amazing, hard, eye-opening, life-changing, and affecting my everyday experiences.” She recommends this unforgettable month of travel, peer encounters and service to Israel to anyone who has the chance to participate.
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Shlichim Shiran Geffen and Yael Weizner soared through the summer as the two Israeli counselors at the JCC summer camp, Camp ‘J.’ During the 10-week period, one interacted with Camp Shalom campers, kindergarten through second grade, while the other served as the Israel culture specialist. Halfway through, they reversed roles.
Shiran, from Holon, has served in the Israeli army as an education officer and worked in the Haganah Museum in Tel Aviv. Yael, from Kiryat Tivon, worked with the reserves during her compulsory service. After camp, both 22-year olds traveled together in the United States before returning to Israel. They added Israeli ruach (spirit) during the week of the camp’s Maccabiah Games 2011 and helped build a cultural bridge to their native land.
Tucsonans who opened their homes and hearts as host families included Tami and Mark Ballis, Robin and Art Cohen, Melissa Oberman-Hall and Garrett Hall, and Suzanne Baron Helming and Bruce Helming.
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An Abraham family update:
Jeffrey Abraham, 28, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminay in May and become a pulpit rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel in Nyack, N.Y.
David Abraham, 25, headed the special needs program at Camp Ramah in Ojai, Calif., this summer. David, a UA grad, made aliyah in 2008, spent two years in the IDF as a tank commander, and launched a website for Diaspora Jews contemplating joining or volunteering with the Israeli army (see http://azjewishpost.com/ ?p=6673).
Allison Abraham, 21, who made Israel her home earlier this year, was a first-responder volunteer with Magen David Adom before receiving her draft notice. On Sept. 1, she began Sherut Leumi (National Service), the IDF’s alternative volunteer program.
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On June 15, atop Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, IDF soldier Max Gan’s family — parents Jami and Scott, sister Maddison and brother Noah — watched as Max finished his final 75-kilometer march, then witnessed the ceremony making him a paratrooper in an elite combat unit.
Max, 20, a graduate of Catalina Foothills High School, Hebrew High, United Synagogue Youth and the Nativ program, made aliyah last year. He went through Garin Tzabar, a program that facilitates IDF service for children of Israelis and Diaspora Jews not living in Israel. The program acts as a support system for these “lone soldiers” who have no immediate family in Israel. Jami says that out of 400 soldiers inducted in Max’s particular draft, a record number, 63, are lone soldiers who receive housing and extra benefits. Max feels that Israel is his birthright and needs defending, which is his obligation.
One of Max’s best buddies, Yoni Twena, also 20, joined the Gan family for this momentous occasion. Yoni was born in Israel but grew up in Tucson, made aliyah in January of this year and will be inducted into the IDF in the near future. He has taken a path similar to Max and we wish them both continued health, happiness and safety.
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Three Tucsonans are embarking on gap-year programs in Israel. Adam Bukani, a Sabino High School grad, will participate in the Aardvark Israel Immersion Program. Kayleigh Rulney, a Catalina Foothills High School grad, will join him on this program. Abbey Roberts, a Sahuaro High School grad, will travel on the Young Judaea Year Course in Israel. We look forward to learning about these academic and life experiences when they return.
Time to share
Keep me posted — 319-1112. L’shana tova and l’shalom.