Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tel Aviv Nightlife Crawl

As seen in Conde Nast Traveler

Tel Aviv Nightlife Crawl

HaOman 17, Tel Aviv
HaOman 17
You won’t need earplugs for Tel Aviv’s latest nightlife sensation: the exhibition “Night Stamp” at the gallery in Beit Ha'ir (the old city hall). The show, mounted by the Tel Aviv municipality itself, is a dip into the legendary exuberance of Tel Aviv’s clubland as dreamt up by nightlife icon Shimon Shirazi. Fittingly, New York’s own Amanda Lepore flitted into town for opening night a few weeks ago.

Many of show's images of frenzied nights were taken (perhaps by the one person not so drunk that he couldn’t hold a camera) at 1 HaOman 17 (88 Abarbanel St.),Tel Aviv’s biggest club. The action starts late inside this former warehouse in the gritty south end of town (note: it’s huge but hard to find, so a taxi is a must). If you’re lucky you’ll be visiting when popular Israeli DJ Offer Nissim is spinning there. Nissim is famous for his dark tribal progressive house beats and mean Madonna remixes—he opened for Madge at the first concert of the MDNA tour, in Tel Aviv, last year.
Some of the best Tel Aviv nights out begin, naturally, with the alcoholic beverage of your choice. Your first stop on the tipple circuit should be any of the large bars around the lower and generally ebullient reaches of Lilienblum Street and Rothschild Boulevard. Or start where the trendy bohos are at 2 Port Sa’id (Har Sinai 2). It’s a groovadelic drinkery that takes its name from the Egyptian coastal town and is located, ironically enough, behind Tel Aviv’s Great Synagogue. Both the interior and terrace fairly ooze retro flair (funky background music emanates from vinyl here) and you can make yours an uncomplicated arak cocktail or beer before moving on to one of numerous watering holes on trendy Nahalat Binyamin Street nearby.

Hot spots there include the newish 3 Soda Bar (Nahalat Binyamin St. 43), where you'll find a healthy serving of sizzling dance sounds and Dr. Pepper-based cocktails, and 4 Shpagat (next door, same address), the city’s new go-to gay spot (more bar than club) in a former ballet studio that offers funky stadium-style seating and modern electro beats pumped out at a decibel level that will not preclude flirting with the abs-olutely fabulous bartender.
Remember that Thursday tends to be the wildest party night in Tel Aviv, because it’s like Fridays most everyplace else (Sunday being a work day in Israel), and that’s when bars and clubs of all stripes really start to fill up. But most any night will do at the 5 Block (157 Salame St.), which, despite its location essentially inside a bus terminal in the shadiest part of town, draws big name international DJs like tinkerer-of-Bj√∂rk-tunes David Morales. And in a boisterous side street with no remarkable Bauhaus architecture whatsoever you’ll find the 6 Zizi Club (7 Carlebach St.), whose PAG lineline being the local idiom for "themed club party"—on Fridays is the city’s hottest electro night and attracts a loyal, fashion-conscious and not infrequently gender-bending crowd.

The 7 Milk and Breakfast Club (6 Rothschild Blvd.) has nothing to do with either (you expected things to make sense? This is the Middle East!), but is one of the best spots to shake it on the way-after-hours side. It puts on a Thursday line with a loyal gay following. For more of an Arab acoustic flavor hit the 8 Anna Loulou Bar in Jaffa (Hapanini St.) on Wednesdays. Pair wicked libations with equally wicked electronica and hip-hop beats at the underground (literally) 9 Michatronix club (28 Ben Yehuda) or the very hopping and decidedly non-kosher 10 Deli (47 Allenby St.), a secret dance club lurking behind a streetside sandwich counter. And to see just how reluctantly clothing and the dance floor mix in Tel Aviv once the weather warms up—well, check back with me around Passover.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Israel's 65th Anniversary Mission

I have just returned from a 2 week trip to Israel.  The first week I was with a group from the Jewish National Fund.  The second week, I traveled through the country on my own.  This was my tenth trip to Israel, the first being in 1965.  This trip, not in small part because it coincided with Israel's 60th anniversary as an independent state, was the best.  The truth is I always say that my last trip to Israel was the best trip so I suppose you can say that every trip is better than the one before.  This one, however, was very special.  Shame on any Jew above the age of 30 who has not yet been to Israel.

To be in Israel is to be at the center of the world and to be a witness to and a participant in a miracle of Biblical dimensions.  The people speak Hebrew.  It sounds so simple but, when you think about it, it is amazing.  The signs and newspapers are in Hebrew.  The songs on the radio, the television programs, movies, plays, commercials, all are in Hebrew.  Jews from Yemen, Jews from France, recent arrivals from Russia and Ethiopia, English Jews, Indian Jews, South American Jews, all of the Jews in Israel speak Hebrew.   "So what's the big deal?" some may ask.  "It is, after all Israel and what else should the people be speaking?"  It is nothing short of a miracle that the Jewish people have revived a language that had not been spoken for over 2000 years and have created a modern culture with literature, music, philosophy, dance, theatre, and everything else that a highly advance civilization produces immediately following a calamity that destroyed 1/3 of our people and left the rest adrift in what should have been a paralyzing depression.  We have arisen like a phoenix, reclaimed our ancient land, revived our ancient language, and gathered in our dispersed exiled brother and sisters.  In 60 years we have turned a land that could barely support a million people into a nation that is the home of 7 million.  We did it while plagued with constant war and embargo that sought to annihilate our country.  Israel is a miracle.  If you do not believe that God created the miracle, then you must believe that the Jewish people did.

One cannot travel the land without recognizing that what has been accomplished in such a short period of time is in large part the work of the JNF.  As our guide pointed out to us, Israel is the only country in the world that ended the 20th century with more trees that it had at the beginning of the century.  JNF planted the trees.  Israel's water management techniques have been cutting edge.  We saw the drippers that crisscross the country, squeezing every drop of water for its ultimate value.  Roads, reservoirs, settlements, forests and the repurchase of the land have all been JNF projects.  We have had the privilege and opportunity to participate in the miracle of Israel through our donations to JNF and other like organizations that support our homeland.  I get a feeling of personal pride knowing that I, to some small extent, have been one of the people that nurtured the miracle.  We are all helpers in the miracle through our buying leaves for trees in Hebrew school 60 years ago and donating over the years to JNF,  Friends of the IDF, purchasing bonds, helping hospitals and orphanages, and helping other projects in Israel.  Paraphrasing the commercial, "planting a tree in Israel: $18; getting your name on a plaque in the American Independence Park: $10,000; the pride felt knowing that you participated in the miracle of Israel: priceless."

The JNF tour took us to Be'er Milka.  Be'er Milka is in the middle of the Negev.  It is literally nowhere.  It is a settlement of a few young families who moved there to establish a Jewish presence in the land. In my Zionist youth, the ultimate hero was the halutz, the pioneer.   Everyone in Be'er Milka is a halutz.  Zionist heros are alive and active in Eretz Yisroel.  Still, I asked myself, what the heck is ever going to come out of a settlement in the middle of nowhere?  A few day later I got the answer.  I went to Kibbutz Hatzerim, where I used to live.  Hatzerim is the settlement that developed dripper irrigation that has spread all over the world.  It is a thriving wealthy community on a tree capped hill in the middle of the Negev.  It was founded in 1947 by a small group of Halutzim who went there, a hill top in the middle of nowhere, to establish a Jewish presence.  I realized that Be'er Milka is what Hatzerim used to be, 60 years ago, and could become what Hatzerim is today.  That's the thing about us Jews.  We dream and we act and our dreams and our actions become miracles.

To learn more about joining JNF's 65th Anniversary MIssion, click HERE.

Submitted by JNF Donor, Charles Fleishman after returning from JNF's 60th Anniversary Mission

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Alternative Winter Break - final days


Today wasn't as much of a volunteering day as it was a day of learning about JNF.  The first place that we went to was a small kibbutz with only 50 families where we learned about kibbutz life.  They are the only kibbutz that has both religious and secular Jews working together and we learned about how they make that work.  Right outside of the kibbutz, JNF built a  beautiful lookout.  The next place that we went was the Sderot playground that JNF built.  Thousands of rockets have been shot into Sderot and the kids always have to stay in bomb shelters.  JNF built this safe indoor playground where children could play and have easy access to a nearby bomb shelter so they could let out all of their stress and energy.  It is a beautiful playground with toys for kids of all ages.  It has a rock climbing wall, a soccer field, computers, video games, and much more. The last thing we did was a classic JNF project.  JNF was first founded to plant trees all over Israel to claim the land so today we went to a field near Jerusalem and we each planted a tree to build up Israel making it a greener and more beautiful planet.  We then went to Jerusalem where we were staying for the rest of the program.


Today we did our last volunteer project.  Right outside of Jerusalem was a historical house and our job was to help fix up the garden in the back of the house.  There were a couple of different groups of people doing different things.  A bunch of people worked on making and mounting benches, we worked on building a rock wall, and the rest did other odd jobs around the garden. For our job, what we mainly had to do was take rocks from one side of the garden and put them in a wall formation no the other side.  I think that it was pretty impressive, the amount of rocks we moved in two hours. It was a short project because it was Friday and we still had a full schedule.  Next, we went to the 9/11 memorial.  It was really meaningful to see how much Israel cared about all of the Americans who had lost their lives on that day.  At the memorial, a fireman came to speak to us about his service.  That was the last part of the programming.  

The rest of the weekend was full of group bonding time and just hanging out with the new friends that we made on this trip.

Sara Jacobovitch, Alternative Break Participant, Binghamton University

Monday, January 14, 2013

Inspiring Change

Before going to visit Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, we had gotten a taste of  the vision and passion for empowerment, growth and development of the community found in the people who live in the city, such as Sol Fayerman- Hansen from the Or Movement.  His same dedication and excitement towards progress and making his own contribution to the community was echoed at the University, which was so remarkable and inspiring for me.

After an overview discussion of the University, one thing that became very clear was the school’s dedication to intellectual and social progress through empowerment of the surrounding community. Following Ben Gurion’s vision of being pioneers in developing the Negev, the school not only values academic excellence, but also excellence in serving the community, which is a crucial part of the experience as a student at BGU. We spoke with two students about their experience as BGU Undergraduates who highlighted the fact that through their service projects, they themselves are motivated and inspired as they see firsthand the meaning of the work they do.

This idea of dedication to sharing knowledge resonated with me. At the University of Pennsylvania where I am currently a Junior, my peers are highly involved in working with the neighboring community and communities around the world to make them a better place. Myself personally, I have worked within my Latino Honors Society, Cipactli, in several community service and outreach programs in Philadelphia, in addition to my work with PoverUP, a microfinance action platform created by students to fight poverty, increase awareness about microfinance and social enterprise, and give members the opportunity to invest in social business and microfinance institutions. Yet as I walked out of BGU, I was inspired to do even more and have service and community action be a more central part of my experience at Penn! Upon returning to campus in the next couple of days, I look forward to seeking more opportunities in which I can create an even more positive impact on my campus and its surrounding communities.

By Andrea Herrera, University of Pennsylvania ‘14

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Caravan for Democracy - Sunday Drive

I, as I am sure most of my friends felt waking up this morning, had a feeling of both sadness and anticipation. Sadness because it was our last day in one of the holiest cities in the world, but a sense of anticipation for the next leg in our adventure through Israel.
After having a lovely buffet breakfast at the Prima Kings Hotel, we packed up the bus and headed to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But before we went in, Yoni, our esteemed and well-versed tour guide, talked to us about the importance of the Israeli Supreme Court -- especially within a country that doesn't have a written constitution. What I found extraordinary about the judicial process was that you didn't have to be an Israeli citizen to have your case heard before the Court and that the judges weren't politically appointed . 

Once we had passed through security at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, we met with two brilliant women -- one an expert on Syria and Iran; the other the Deputy Spokeswoman for the Ministry. The expert spoke mainly about Iran's nuclear military ambitions -- specifically the status of their enriched Uranium and the threat it poses to Israel's security. The Spokeswoman talked about Israel's perception to the international community; themes like apartheid and boycott that contribute to the propaganda of the international arena that are against the State of Israel. 

From there, we went to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum. The most striking thing about it was its triangular shape and the video at the entrance that depicted and animated Jewish life in Europe before this horrific event. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the events that took place before, during and after -- even sharing some of his own family's personal experience with the Holocaust to one of our caravan participants. The most impactful part of the museum was the library of books which contained the names of those that lost their lives to this senseless and inhumane tragedy -- including an empty area for names that will never be recovered and remembered. Before we left, we met with an Auschwitz survivor. He told us about how he lost his father, mother, and sister and eventually lost contact with his brother before making his way to the Promised Land. It made me appreciate the resiliency of the Jewish people, and the fact that this man never lost faith in God was mind blowing. As young people living in a modern western world, we can't even begin to imagine something like the Holocaust happening to us. We lose faith in God for the simplest of reasons -- bad breakup, bad grades,  or even just a bad day -- but the fact that this man still held his faith after all that he was subjected to made me reevaluate my relationship with God.

Then we departed south to Be'er Sheva and met with a spokesperson at the Or Movement. We learned about JNF's contributions to creating seed communities in the Negev and Galilee. The young man giving the presentation was very charismatic and passionate about bringing people here to fulfill the Zionist pioneering vision of Ben-Gurion. The simple fact that one can bring green to the desert is something that will always fascinate me, and I am positive that these areas will witness a migration like no other in the coming years. 

That night, we checked into a Kibbutz and had a very emotional debriefing about the events of the day and about our own personal perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I pray that one day we can find peace for both parties. However, no radical religious philosophy in the form of a political party that inhibits democratic progress and the protection of basic fundamental human rights should ever be given legitimacy and sovereignty. 
By: Trevor Myers

Caravan for Democracy - The Universal Language of Dance

By Joanne Louis

Today we traveled from Tiberias to Haifa, another city nearby. In this city we explored a number of educational institutions, one being the Jerusalem Music Academy where we observed a Salsa class! Instead of simply observing, myself and a couple of other participants decided to join the dancing, which was really fun. The class was practicing their "circle dance" which is a type of dance very popular in Cuba! Having already done this in France, it was so comforting to be able to participate in the class with this shared similarity. As I was dancing with the Israeli dance students we were really interacting through our hand movements, our eye contact, and our smiles. Despite the fact that we were not the same, we were communicating and enjoying dance. We were speaking all the same is really a universal language! I appreciated this experience because it was an aspect outside of military and politics, but it is just as important to the education and culture of the Israelis.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Caravan for Democracy Mission - A better understanding

January 5, 2013 

Today we had a walking tour of Jerusalem in the rain and it was quite an experience. 

I went into a mosque and was moved by the number of Muslims that congregated to pray together in the heart of Israel. Although there is a lot of tension among the Jews and Arabs in Israel, it was an eye opening experience to see how the two groups are able to coexist. Much of the media permeated in the US makes it seem as through the Jews and Muslims hate each other and are unable to live peacefully together but I was able to see first hand how this is not true. 

I also appreciated going to the film school and watching movies about tangible issues that the people of Israel have to face including homosexuality and the security barrier. Although the security barrier makes life harder for many Palestinians, it was not done to segregate two peoples; it was a measure taken by the government to combat the bombings that were becoming all too common in Israel. Before this journey, I was very critical of the wall and did not agree with its presence but now I understand that it was necessary for security reasons. I also have a better understanding of the geopolitical issues that Israel faces and can speak more intelligently about why certain things are the way they are in Israel. 

This is why I am extremely thankful for this experience and look forward to telling my peers and colleagues about all the new things I have learned during this incredible journey. 

Shabhia Akter 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Helping in the Arava

Today we worked in the Arava which is in the western part of the Negev.  We visited an archeological site that a family was taking care of and we helped clean it up.  Some people helped paint an old house and parts of the banister on the side of the stairs.  Some people helped clean up garbage around the site, and we buried irrigation hoses.  There were four rows of trees and each had a drip irrigation line.  We had to bury the lines because porcupines would eat the lines and they also don’t do well in the desert weather.  We took hoes and dug trenches a few inches deep all the way down the lines and then we buried them as best as we could making sure to leave the drippers sticking out so it could water the plants. 

For our afternoon activity, we went to a research and development center where we learned about settling in the desert.  The most fun part of this trip was when the director took us to some of the greenhouses and we got to taste fresh Israeli strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers.  They were so sweet and I think that everybody thoroughly enjoyed.  We also got to see the fish farm that they had, where they were primarily growing clown fish.  I love learning about agriculture in the desert because I think it is amazing how much they can do.  

Sara Jacobovitch, Alternative Break Participant, Binghamton University

Earth's Promise

We had a long day yesterday on the airplane and then traveling to Yerucham which is the place where we’re staying.  We ate dinner, had our first group icebreaker, got to our rooms, and then went to sleep.  Most people didn’t get much sleep but we all made it to breakfast at 7:30.  After breakfast, we got onto the bus and made our way to Be’er Sheva to Earth’s Promise, an Ethiopian absorption center.  Once we got there, we had quite a few projects lined up for us to help out with in their garden.  Some people helped dig out a pond, some people helped build benches and set up a place for them, and I helped make the outer layer of a hut. 

First we dumped three huge bags of clay into a bunch of buckets.  We added water and then began mixing it with our hands.  Once we mixed it as much as we could, we dumped out the muddy clay onto a sheet of plastic on the floor, took off our socks and shoes, and then began mixing it with our feet.  Sand and straw were added in to the mixture and our feet continued to mix until it was as smooth as we could possibly get it.  Once we had our mixture, we took large handfuls over to a mud hut and began spreading on this clay which would be the outer layer.  It was hard work because it was hard to spread it thinly without it sticking to our fingers.  We did as much as we could in the time that we had and in the middle, we had great Israeli falafel for lunch.

Sara Jacobovitch, Alternative Break Participant, Binghamton University

Yossi's Farm - Alternative Break

Today we got to wake up a half hour late and I think since we had an early night before, everyone was refreshed and ready for the day. Today we went to Yossi’s farm. Yossi is an Israeli who owns a farm in the desert. He has a few ducks, a couple of horses, and a few dogs. The main part of his farm is the olives and grapes that he grows. Our job today was pulling out weeds from the vineyard. These were some of the biggest weeds I’ve ever seen and every single row in the vineyard was full of them. We used clippers to cut them out, being careful not to cut the baby grape vines. It was a great group building project because we were all working together. We had an amazing lunch and then Yossi told us his story and the story of his farm.

This afternoon, we went on the hike in the desert. I love hiking so I had a lot of fun. It was really nice to just walk with my new friends and have a good time together. We ended up at the grave of David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. He was the one who had the vision of building up the desert so that is where he wanted to be buried. When we got back, Ariel Kotler spoke to us about the importance of remembering Israel wherever we are. Israel is our homeland and it will always be there for us so we have to be there to help the land as much as possible. 

Sara Jacobovitch, Alternative Break Participant, Binghamton University

The Best Way to Start the New Year

As I sit on a cold tile floor in the lobby of Yerucham B’Yachad, a multitude of thoughts are racing through my head regarding how much I have learned in such a short period of time and the unbelievable emotions I have experienced in just three and a half days. Before I boarded the plane, I had a realization about how I knew I was about to go on a trip that I would remember for the rest of my life that would most likely change my life. But of course, before anything actually happened, I could never predict the immense sense of understanding and belonging I have been experiencing on Alternative Winter Break with the JNF.

In an effort not to spill all of my thoughts out on a piece of paper like a leaking bag of Shoko, I am going to highlight some of my main realizations I have had thus far. Something I have been thinking a lot about since we have been meeting people who have made aliya is what the difference is between making aliya and immigrating. The Right of Return that the Jewish people inherently have makes the move to Israel different than to any other place in the world. Making aliya is making a promise to the people, to the religion, to the culture, to the land. Today at our archaeological dig, I spoke to a woman who made aliya a few years ago and started by walking from the north of the state to the south in seven months with just five dollars. She gave me advice: “Hashem writes your story, but you are in charge of the choices.” Her words really resonated with me, being that college students like myself can often feel like they are at a repetitive or stagnant point in their lives, but we can choose how to make ourselves happy and how to make our lives fulfilling.

Also regarding aliya, I have been thinking about how passionate the people we have met who have moved to Israel are, but there is more to it. Israel is not a place full of magical fantasies and a place to start a perfect life. There are obstacles every day, and some are similar and different to those in America. In Beer Sheva, I really started internalizing JNF’s mission to build up the land as I saw a clear division between the Olde City and the new part being built up. The work the JNF has done in clearing out a land that used to be full of sewage and old cars and the work it plans to continue doing in order to improve the land is impeccable. However, the fact that Israelis do not revere this place makes the mission a lot harder. If I lived here, I could see how it would be easy to ignore the issues in Beersheva, but being an outsider looking in, I admire the work that the JNF does and the picture tour that tries to advertise the beauty and youthful essence that Beer Sheva has to offer.

I could go on for pages, but one last realization I have had is about the power of the Jewish people. A girl in my group unfortunately lost a close friend the day we arrived, and yesterday we said the Kaddish for her. Another person in my group said, “it is beautiful how we can support someone through religion.” Wow, supporting each other through religion. That is something beautiful. Yeah, we all connect differently to our Judaism: some spiritually, some culturally, some through their passion for Israel, and some through Jewish camp. The fact that we are all Jewish is enough, though. More than enough. We have created such a supportive and caring community that is easily created in a Jewish setting. This Jewish experience is unlike any other, and we would not have it any other way than to spend it with the 34 of us in places we have never been, accomplishing things we never thought we could. We can, we are, and we will.”

Tara Levine, Sophomore, Alternative Break Participant, Temple University

Caravan for Democracy, Day 1

Adrian Paneto, Junior, University of Florida

On the first day of the leadership mission, we learned, understood, emphasized and shared an experience that ranged from visiting significant religious sites and monuments to highly discussed geographical areas that contain the memories of past and current political struggles. Having had such a rich experience, I have not only come to see beyond my immediate frame, but also to accept and attempt to understand the complexity that is Israel. Israel could be compared to an onion, one that has to be peeled layer by layer to be understood. In the end, the day was marked by moments that will not be soon forgotten. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Alternative Break - Arrival

By Elaine Lampert on January 2, 2013
I signed up for JNF Alternative Winter Break because I was looking for something fun and meaningful to do this winter break.  This trip is turning out to be just that.

We arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport Sunday evening.  Most of us slept for some of the flight.  I enjoyed getting to know the people sitting near me before and after I slept.  We went through customs, claimed luggage, and were greeted by Michal, our Israeli guide, and Gabe, who works for Shorashim and is supervising our trip.  We then went to the buses, got our cell phones and exchanged for shekel, loaded up, and headed toward Yerucham, where we would be staying for the first four nights.

Yerucham has a nice, clean hostel where we stay in rooms of three to four with a bathroom in each bedroom.  We eat breakfast and dinner there too.  I have three nice roommates all from different parts of the country.

Each day we have breakfast, leave for a work project and an activity, come back, shower, have dinner, do another activity here/ice breaker, and then go to sleep (and believe me, we are SO tired at the end of the day). Yesterday we went to Yossi's farm, an organic farm in the Negev, where we helped an amazing man pull weeds out his winery.   The farm was beautiful, and Yossi told us all about his dream of having this farm in the Negev, along with the struggles he and his family face to keep the farm going.  He also spoke to us about how we works peacefully with the Bedouin community nearby.  He served us an amazing lunch with fresh vegetables, pita, deli meat, tea with fresh mint, and many other treats.  What amazes me is that the work our group did in five hours takes him and his volunteers at least a month to complete.  After we left the farm, we went to Ramon Crator, which Michal says is actually a "Maktesh".  After that we visited David Ben-Gurion's grave.  We came back for dinner and an activity.  Since it was New Year's Eve, the staff had a party for us, complete with a great Israeli DJ, dancing, and karaoke!  I had a great time, and enjoyed celebrating the New Year in this beautiful country.

I really want to highlight today, which was very meaningful to me.  We worked at Earth's Promise, which is a social service organization that helps the Ethiopian Immigrants feel at home.  We met Adam, who is in charge of the gardens. Adam made Aliyah two years ago to work at Earth's Promise. We learned about how Earth's Promise helps Ethiopian Immigrants by giving them a place to live and lots of classes to help them thrive in Israel.  They also give each family a garden plot, to help them feel at home as most of them had farms as their professions. Today, I worked on completing the creation of a Djo, which is the traditional hut that Ethiopians live in, made of a bamboo frame and mud walls made of a mixture of clay, sand, and hay.  First, many of us got "down and dirty", mixing the mud with our feet (see Facebook or Earth's Promise's website for pictures).  Then, we put the mud on the bamboo frame with our hands to make the walls.  As I was spreading the sticky, cool mud on the walls, I reflected on the meaning of why we were making a Djo here in Israel.  The immigrants asked for the Djo to be built to help them feel at home in this strange land.  I thought about my life, and how I have lived in other places that are very different from home, where people speak differently from me.  I thought about how I always feel better if I have things that remind me of home, such as pictures, books, food, or something related to Judaism with me.  I felt so connected to the immigrants as I helped create the Djo, and feel so fulfilled that I helped make them feel at home.

I am so lucky to have so many wonderful donors who made this trip possible for me.  I am also lucky enough to have Anne Greenspoon, Associate Director of Israel Advocacy and Education and Josh Weisblum, an ASB alum as my trip leaders.  Anne is always pointing out all of the amazing work JNF is doing in Israel and I am so excited to tell my donors all about this work when I return.  I truly appreciate how I experience the tzedakah in action, and look forward to seeing more of the projects that JNF has in Israel this week.

Young adults travel to Israel

In an enormous effort to engage young people with Israel, Jewish National Fund has sent over 120 young adults between the ages of 18-30 to Israel in just the past week on two extraordinary and very different types of travel programs.  

Just over 100 participants are volunteering in the southern half of the country through the JNF’s Alternative Break (AB) program. These participants are from young Jewish communities across the country. Many of them have participated in a JNF Taglit-Birthright trip, others have been on teen tours or family trips but all have decided to return to Israel to give back. The Alternative Winter Break Program is focused on projects in the south, including weeding and planting at agricultural farms in the Negev and painting and cleaning up at an Ethiopian Absorption Center.

In addition to the AB program, Jewish National Fund has also sent 25 non-Jewish students to Israel on the Caravan for Democracy Mission. The CFD participants went through a rigorous selection and interview process before being selected for the mission. The 25 selected participants are the best and brightest from across the country. They are all leaders on their campuses and will use this program in Israel to learn about the country and bring information back to their home and campus communities.

You can follow the activities of participants who are blogging daily from both programs here, at, and twitter hashtags #JNFcaravan #JNFawb

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Caravan for Democracy Mission

By Alexandria Wiggins on January 2, 2013
I have been fascinated with the country of Israel since about the 8th grade.  From having a best friend who was Jewish, participating in a leadership program for African-American and Jewish high school students, and doing an extensive project on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 11th grade , I have literally dreamed about visiting this place.  Everyone I know who has visited - no matter what race, religion, or ethnicity - has felt a connection to the country and the wonders it has to offer.  So when I woke up December 31st, I was beyond excited to experience all the excitement and adventure myself!
Since I’m from Philadelphia, there wasn’t much of a hassle to get to JFK Airport. When there, I was greeted by Naomi and Mona, and started meeting the other students on the trip. After we all arrived, we went through security with El Al staff AND TSA. I didn’t realize how much security we would have to go through, but at the same time, I understood the necessity for being precautious.  We went to Gate B31 and waited anxiously for our flight. The plane began to board at 10:50PM for our 11:50PM departure. Once we got on the plane, JNF surprised us with Happy New Years tiaras, party noisemakers, and beaded necklaces. When the clock struck 12 for the New Year, we all began to clap and shout, probably to the dismay of some!
The flight was about 10 hours. I slept the vast majority of it, but made sure to wake up for meals! I also spent time watching Glee on my laptop, chatting with another student on the trip, and reading some of the pre-trip literature. We arrived in Tel Aviv at around 5PM (Tel Aviv time of course). The airport was very interesting, with English, Hebrew, and Arabic written all over. After gathering all of our things, we were greeted by Leor and the rest of the crew that will travel with us during our trip. We traveled two hours north to Galilee, and are staying not far from where the Jordan River exits the Sea of Galilee. After eating a really delicious dinner, we went to our rooms, had a brief orientation, and then went to bed. We have to wake up at 6:15AM, so we need all of the sleep we can get!  I cannot wait to see all the fabulous things Israel has to offer tomorrow!