Another Taglit-Birthright Israel milestone
Now in its 15th year, Birthright has sent over 360,000 young adults from 64 countries to Israel. More participants traveled this winter than in any other single season.
From Jan. 2-14, the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation sent 30 students on the program, accompanied by two staff members — Naama Cohen, Israel fellow, and Ryan Woloshin, director of Jewish student life. Seven Tucsonans were among the group — Bonnie Abelson, Ari Auerbach, Sara Feld, Marlee Kellman, Sam Lepow, Jami O’Rourke and Jacob Silvers. Sharing the bus were students from Northern Arizona University; University of California, Berkeley; San Francisco State University; California State University, Chico; Cornell Law School; and University of Virginia. In Israel, seven Israeli soldiers joined them for part of the itinerary. Just as Birthright has been a sought-after program in the United States (with an applicant waiting list), Israeli soldiers also apply to encounter the Birthright experience for themselves.
The bus mates traversed our homeland, including a visit to our Partnership 2Gether region of Hof Ashkelon and Kiryat Milachi. Our young people spoke of memorable moments and friendships made along the way:
• On Mt. Herzl, Sara appreciated having the soldiers speak at the gravesites of relatives or friends entombed there. Their service commitment to their country put everything into perspective. It was moving to Sara to sing Hatikvah with soldiers at Herzl’s grave.
• Sam mentioned the reflecting pool in the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, where he saw his own image among the reflections of the victims in the cone above. “We’re the legacy of Judaism. It is our responsibility to carry on the memory of the Holocaust and retain a semblance of our cultural identity,” he said.
• Having just climbed Masada, Jacob watched the sunrise from the top and pondered the struggles of the ancient Jews who committed mass suicide atop this mountain fortress.
• Jami’s childhood dream of floating in the Dead Sea became a reality. “It was 100 times better than what I expected,” she said.
• Marlee was one of six B’nai Mitzvah on the trip. At Kibbutz Degania Bet, Ryan led the Shabbat mincha service at which each celebrant was called up for an aliyah. Each then spoke about the significance of observing this rite of passage at this time and place. Afterward, their peers sang Hava Nagila and lifted each of them up in a chair.
According to the Birthright Israel Foundation, the cost per Birthright participant is $3,000; however, this journey of self-discovery and ticket to one’s Jewish heritage is priceless.
Super extraordinary mitzvah day
Each year, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Super Extraordinary Sunday gets bigger and better. On Jan. 26, Federation professionals Mary Ellen Loebl, Sarah Langert and Sharon Glassberg involved children of all ages in hands-on activities at mitzvah stations.
Mary Ellen opened the session for children up to age 7 by reading the PJ Library book, “It’s a … It’s a… It’s a … Mitzvah.” Projects zeroed in on five mitzvot taken from the book. It’s a mitzvah to:
• Celebrate Shabbat with family and friends — making and decorating Shabbat boxes with a wine cup, battery-operated candles, and a blessing card
• Take care of the earth — using recycled materials from other PJ Library projects
• Give tzedakah (charity) — making and decorating tzedakah boxes
• Share food with the hungry — filling bags with cans of bean soup ingredients
• Honor your parents — putting stickers with loving sentiments on cards
Sarah instructed first to seventh graders in four areas:
• Caring for the elderly — creating magnetic decorated picture frames out of jumbo popsicle sticks for Handmaker residents
• Caring for animals — making no-sew fleece tie blankets and toys for In the Arms of Angels Tucson, which rescues dogs and cats
• Feeding the hungry — measuring out ingredients for a dry bean soup recipe for Refugee Focus, a program of Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest
• Caring for the sick — assembling a bead packet for sick children through Beads of Courage, an organization helping children with serious illness to record, tell and own their stories of courage
Sharon led the eighth to 12th graders, present and future B’nai Tzedek teen philanthropists, who:
• Helped facilitate the mitzvah booths for PJ Library and the grade schoolers
• Made fleece scarves for the refugee community
• Put together bag lunches for the Tucson Poverello House, which provides daytime hospitality for the homeless
B’nai Tzedek teens also listened to presentations from Jill Rich on Poverello House, Matt Landau for Lutheran Social Services Refugee Resettlement, and campaign leaders on Federation and its mission.
If our goal is to raise sharing, caring menschen, we’re off to a wonderful start.
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Speaking of PJ Library, one of its recent blogs contained a segment about Kara Cartin and her family. Kara and her husband, Josh, a U.S. State Department foreign service officer, have been stationed in China, Ecuador, Indonesia and Taiwan. PJ Library has helped Kara build the Jewish identities of their two daughters, Clio, 8, and Roxy, 4. Kara’s mother, Tucsonan Lee Surwit, makes sure that with each global move, PJ Library has an updated address for the family on file, so that two PJ Library books (one for each of her granddaughters) always await them at the U.S. Embassy upon their arrival. Lee and Earl Surwit were sponsors for the first two years of PJ Library in Southern Arizona and continue to support this worthwhile program.
Time to share
It’s your turn. Keep me posted at the Post — 319-1112. L’shalom.