The Birthright Israel Foundation asks: “What has four wheels and takes 40 young Jewish adults on the experience of a lifetime?” Answer: A Taglit-Birthright Israel bus.
During this winter season, Birthright brought more than 14,000 young Jews, ages 18-26, from 21 countries to our homeland for the 10-day program. From Dec. 24-Jan. 5, a full Birthright bus of 25 University of Arizona students and 13 from other universities availed themselves of this free trip through the UA Hillel Foundation. Hillel staffers Amalia Mark, director of Jewish student life, and Naama Cohen, Israel fellow, accompanied the students. Eight Israeli soldiers joined them for five days for their own Birthright Israel experience. The meeting of students and soldiers took place at Naama’s mother’s home in Kiryat Gat. The busload left — fed and sent on their way, in quintessential Jewish mother fashion, with “a ton of delicious food.”
Besides the requisite sights and sounds of Israel, the travelers partook in a tikkun olam (repair of the world) project at the Path to Peace mosaic security wall at Netiv Ha’asara, near the Gaza border. They wrote a wish or blessing on tiles before cementing them to the wall. For Adam Knox, an Ironwood Ridge High School graduate who is now a UA sophomore, visiting the Gaza border was a sobering experience. Hearing firsthand accounts of attacks on Israelis living near the border, he felt a strong emotional connection to the conflict. Seeing the bomb shelters and knowing that residents have only five seconds to seek shelter once the sirens go off that indicate an incoming rocket, made him realize how these citizens must live in constant fear. The students also visited Kiryat Malachi, the Tucson Jewish community’s sister city. They heard from young adults there about life in their community and helped them paint the walls of the new young adult center. Young adult volunteers from Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross) joined this activity, connecting the Americans even more with their Israeli peers.
In Jerusalem, the group heard from Avraham Infeld, president emeritus of Hillel International, who will speak at a Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona campaign event on Feb. 10 at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. On Shabbat, students had an opportunity to participate in a Hebrew naming ceremony at the Ramada Royal Hotel, as well as become a bar or bat mitzvah if they hadn’t done so when they were younger. Tanya Hetlinger, a Pusch Ridge Christian Academy graduate who is presently a UA senior, opted to do both during a moving afternoon service. Raised in a non-religious household, Tanya assumed she would never have a bat mitzvah. To have it in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, was beyond imaginable; it was an experience for which she will be forever grateful. She chose the Hebrew name “Tzivya Adira,” meaning “deer or gazelle” and “strong and noble,” characteristics on which she hopes to fashion her life. Tanya credits the supportive staff and her friendly co-participants for making this journey more amazing than she ever anticipated.
Over the past 15 years, this group experience has touched Birthrighters intellectually, emotionally and spiritually and connected them with Israel’s history, culture and people. This year was no exception.
Pre- and post-new year festivities
In 2013, Chanukah fell on Thanksgiving (“Thanksgivukkah”). Last month, it ended right before Christmas Eve. Later that night, Young Jewish Phoenix hosted its annual soiree, Mazelpalooza. On Dec. 24, over 1,000 young adults, ages 21 to 40-something, partied at the new Scottsdale concert venue and nightclub, Livewire, with DJ Solomon providing entertainment. The event benefited the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix Annual Campaign for Jewish Needs. Some Tucsonans who traveled up I-10 for the big party include Michael Achtman, Elyse Adams, Sarah Kats and Josh Cohen, Sarah Langert, Sami Lehrman, Lindsay Migdal and Efrat Shahar.
Sequins & Bowties, the annual Hava Tequila event presented by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Young Leadership, took place on Jan. 10 at the Z Mansion. It was co-chaired by Gabby and Avi Erbst and Shelly and Jaran Travis and targeted a similar age demographic as Mazelpalooza. The approximately 100 revelers were treated to dancing to a DJ, photo booth, a dessert bar, signature drinks and raffle prizes. Proceeds benefited the Federation’s Jewish-Latino Teen Coalition.
Super Bowl trivia
With Super Bowl XLIX taking place next week at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, we share some trivia about the “big game.”
The UA Symphonic Marching Band, under the direction of the late Jack Lee, was invited to perform the halftime show at the first Super Bowl game played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 15, 1967. At this sporting event, then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs. Known as “Best in the West,” the band took the field for the entire 15-minute show. They were joined by the Grambling State University Marching Band and guest performer, trumpeter Al Hirt. Fred Klein and Mark Ross, both clarinetists and UA freshmen at the time, marched in this inaugural Americana-themed halftime performance.
Fred remembers the smog that covered much of the coliseum from end zone to end zone and that the field was painted green for TV (a new concept at that time). He represented New Jersey in the USA formation and part of the crack in the Liberty Bell formation. Fred also recalls the rush of air from power packs two rocketeers wore to send them soaring into the air, and back down, causing the sheet music to fly off the stands.
Mark says the bowl game was a special experience but the actual game didn’t have the hype and influence it does today; in fact, it was the only Super Bowl game that was not sold out. About 20 years ago, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, a player on that Kansas City Chiefs team and a movie star in later life, came into Mark’s office for some business. Mark recognized him and mentioned, “You know, you and I have something in common.” Williamson asked was what it was, and Mark answered, “We both played in the first Super Bowl.” He looked at Mark quizzically and said, “I don’t remember you.” Mark responded, “That’s because I was playing at halftime when you were in the locker room.”
Time to share
I’m all ears … Keep me posted of your goings-on — 319-1112. L’shalom.