Winter Birthright Israel
After finishing final exams, 30 University of Arizona students embarked on the Winter Taglit-Birthright Israel Hillel experience. Nine of the participants hail from Tucson — Michael Evenchik, Allie Healy, Emily Healy, Lauren Katz, Daniel Millstone, Benjamin Offenhartz, Nathan Sacks, Zachary Sattinger and Alyssa Silva. “The reasons that students wanted to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Michelle Blumenberg, Hillel’s executive director, “are as varied as the students themselves: connecting with their Jewish heritage, meeting people and learning about the culture first-hand, gaining a better understanding of the land, biting into pita and falafel, walking through Israeli markets, and more.”
Accompanied by Naomi Schuster, Hillel’s director of Jewish Student Life, and Israel Fellow Shani Knaani, the group met at Newark International Airport on the morning of Dec. 17 to begin their 10-day journey. I asked several of the local students for an impression or highlight of their trip.
Lauren, a Catalina Foothills High School graduate and UA senior majoring in psychology, stated: “Honestly, I wasn’t sure what this experience would be like. I thought I would do the usual touring. I was looking forward to the sights and learning more about my Judaism. I knew that I would have an emotional connection to Israel but I never thought I would have such an emotional bond with everyone on the trip. Birthright brought together people I would have never met otherwise and who I can now call my best friends. Being able to experience this journey with other Jewish people my age changed my entire outlook on Judaism. There are so many ways to practice Judaism, there is no ‘right’ way. This trip brought all walks of life together to our homeland and gave us memories we will never forget.”
Alyssa, a Sahuaro High School graduate who is currently a UA sophomore majoring in religious studies and serving as a Hillel student intern, said: “I took this Birthright trip as a reaffirmation of my Jewish identity as well as a way to create strong connections among other Jewish UA students. A memorable moment occurred at Mt. Hertzl military cemetery where we visited the gravesite of Hannah Senesh, a paratrooper and poet. Over her grave, I, the Israeli soldiers accompanying our group, and a few others joined in singing in Hebrew her beautiful poem set to music, “Eli Eli” (My G-d, My G-d). I felt this was a key moment of my trip because of the togetherness I felt with those around me, my mishpacha (family). Because of Judaism and our shared love of Israel, this will connect us for our entire lifetime, no matter how far apart in time or space we may be.”
Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem
From Dec. 24 to Jan. 3, the Collier family traveled to Israel for Joel’s Bar Mitzvah. Joel’s parents, Randie and Shelby, his sister, Maya, and grandparents Rosalie Rellin (Milwaukee, Wis.) and Carol and Roger Collier, were joined by the officiant, Congregation Chaverim’s Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, her husband, Jack, daughter, Naomi Present, and son David Aaron.
Joel became a Bar Mitzvah on a Thursday morning at the Davidson Center in the area of Robinson’s Arch, just beneath the Western Wall. Our celebrant led the service and chanted the Torah portion. (On Friday, Feb. 8, his actual 13th birthday, Joel will lead the Shabbat service at Congregation Chaverim and give a Bar Mitzvah speech.) Following the ceremony, the group enjoyed a celebratory brunch at a restaurant in the Armenian Quarter. While ambling through the Old City, Joel, wearing a suit and tie, had people on the street approaching and “mazel tov-ing” him on this milestone occasion.
The day before, as part of Joel’s mitzvah project, all 11 volunteered at the “Ichlu Ri’im” soup kitchen. Located in a Jerusalem synagogue, the facility feeds the hungry, poor, old and sick, regardless of religious affiliation. The travelers peeled potatoes and garlic and helped serve lunch.
On this wonderful 10-day sojourn, the group toured the customary sites. For Randie and Shelby, the high point was their son’s coming-of-age ceremony. A highlight for Joel was floating weightlessly in the Dead Sea. Maya’s favorite activity was rappelling from the Keshet Cave in the Galilee, then hiking back up the mountain, jostling with grazing goats and their sheperds and dogs along the way. Other special parts of the itinerary included:
• Riding a jeep on the Golan Heights overlooking Syria and touring a bunker there.
• Lodging at Kibbutz Maagan Holiday Village and learning about kibbutz life in the earlier years versus today.
• Eating in a Bedouin tent and riding a camel at Kfar Hanokdim in the Negev.
• Praying at the Rambam’s (Maimonides) tomb in Tiberias.
• Climbing Masada and taking the cable car down.
• Singing Hatikvah at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.
Lastly, the entourage encountered Birthright kids at every turn!
Reuniting with family and friends
The Gasch family — Janis, Danny, Sam (24, now of L.A.), and Molly (21, of Denver) — visited Israel Dec. 22-29 to celebrate the 50th birthday of Danny’s Canadian brother, Michael, and hold a combined family reunion. A luncheon in a restaurant outside of Tel Aviv brought together about 50 relatives — five generations ranging from one to 90 years of age.
During the week, the foursome rendezvoused with former Tucsonans/new Israelis Carol and Dan Karsch at the 2C restaurant in the Azrieli Mall. This Mediterranean gourmet kosher restaurant sits atop one of Tel Aviv’s tallest buildings and offers an impressive 360-degree view of the city and beyond. They enjoyed the wonderful meal, company and ambiance. Danny had served as president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona under Carol’s directorship. Sam met with Hamatal Posklinsky, daughter of former Tucson shaliach (emissary) Yoram Posklinsky, as the two had been students together at Tucson Hebrew Academy. He also visited with Josh Weiner who is studying at a Jerusalem yeshiva. Josh is the son of Naomi Weiner, director of the America-Israel Friendship League Tucson chapter. By happenstance, Molly encountered Catalina Foothills High School friend Daniel Millstone at the Nachalat Binyamin Arts and Crafts Market in Tel Aviv; he had extended his stay in Israel following his Birthright experience.
Time to share
That’s January. Keep me posted for February — 319-1112. L’shalom.