Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Beersheba, with Shlomo Artzi on hand, launches new city space

From The Times of Israel

By Debra Kamin

A 12,000-seat outdoor theater is the crown of the new River Park, an ambitious project the mayor hopes will boost the Negev city’s profile

(photo by Udi Ibn Haim)
Last Thursday evening, as Israeli superstar Shlomo Artzi serenaded 12,000 Beersheba residents in the city’s brand-new amphitheater, Mayor Ruvik Danilovich looked on with pride. The event, meant to inaugurate the newest and biggest outdoor performance space in Israel, sealed several years of effort on his part to raise this southern city’s profile from a sleepy desert enclave to a cosmopolitan metropolis worthy of its title as capital of the Negev. 

“The new amphitheater, which is the largest amphitheater and the only one of its kind in Israel, is a milestone for Israeli culture,” he said. “It is especially big news to the south. Every major city around the world would be proud to have such an amphitheater.”

Bundled up against the chilly desert night and enthusiastically waving their glowing smartphones in the air, the crowd on Thursday night seemed to agree. They cheered when Artzi, who played a medley of his greatest hits and routinely waded his way into the crowd to kiss his fans and allow them to sing into his microphone, reminded them that Beersheba has always been a favorite stop of his.  “And what an amphitheater!” he exclaimed.

The outdoor arena is the crown jewel in an ambitious broader development project for the Negev’s largest city. Dubbed River Park, it spans 1,700 acres along five miles of the city’s south and includes bike trails, promenades, and an outdoor sports center. Restaurants and galleries are in the works.

The park, which when completed will be double the size of Central Park in New York City, is a joint project of the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli government and a number of private corporations.

 The new amphitheater is the largest in Israel. (photo credit: photo by Udi Ibn Haim)

JNF has touted the park as the centerpiece of its Blueprint Negev campaign, which it hopes will make good on David Ben-Gurion’s dream of greening Israel’s massive desert space and lure businesses and cultural groups away from the country’s center and into its wider periphery. The park is modeled on the San Antonio River Walk and much of its construction involved cleaning and purifying the muddy trickle that was the city’s riverbed, landscaping its banks and installing infrastructure to pump purified water into it year round.

Danilovich, who was re-elected last week, started planning the River Park almost immediately upon entering office and has made it his pet project ever since.
“The city of Beersheba is undergoing exceptional development,” he said. “I have no doubt it will become one of the most desirable cities in Israel.”


Monday, October 14, 2013

An inclusive Bat- Mitzvah trip to Israel

Yardena and Geoffrey Miller from Woodmere, NY could not have asked for a better way to celebrate their daughter Sigal’s bat mitzvah than with a family trip to Israel. The Millers did not want to compromise on this trip in any way, even though Sigal is in a wheelchair.

It was important for them to be able to see and experience everything they wanted to in Israel, without leaving Sigal behind. Since no trip to Israel is complete without a hike or nature outing, the Millers knew that they would have to find such an activity where Sigal could be included. Thanks to the Jewish National Fund and the nonprofit organization LOTEM- Making Nature Accessible, this was possible.

The Miller’s trip to Israel culminated with a visit to LOTEM’s ecological farm and hiking trail located in the north of Israel, outside the city of Yokneam. The Millers were greeted on the farm by Raz, a national service guide with LOTEM. Raz was injured 10 years ago in a car accident, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Raz led the Millers in an activity where they got to make perfume from hand-picked herbs. A group of teenagers from the Bet Eckstein School for special education in Pardes Hana who were on a fieldtrip with LOTEM that morning then threw a surprise party for Sigal. They presented her with a birthday cake and surrounded her in song. It was very moving for the entire Miller family.

Sigal and Lotem guide Raz Photo: Lotem
Sigal and Lotem guide Raz (Photo:Lotem)
After the bat mitzvah celebration, the Millers hiked LOTEM’s all-inclusive trail in the KKL-JNF Nahal HaShofet Nature Park. This fully accessible trail is the only one of its kind in Israel. Raz led the Millers on the hike and shared his story with them. When he was a young boy, he used to come to this nature park with his friends. Unfortunately after his injury, he no longer had a place where he can hike together with his friends. Thanks to JNF and LOTEM as well as other donors who funded the construction of an accessible trail in the Nahal HaShofet Nature Park, Raz and many others have a beautiful place where they can hike together and connect to the Land of Israel.

“It was a lot of fun”, Sigal’s fifteen year old brother Gabriel said after hiking with his sister. “It’s something I have not had the chance to do until now”.

“There are not many places where one can take a child like Sigal so it is special that we were able to come to Israel to celebrate as a family”, explained Yardena, Sigal’s mother. Sigal’s older brother Joseph added, “It’s important to include everybody”.

LOTEM- Making Nature Accessible is the leading organization in Israel offering accessible hikes and educational nature activities to people with special needs. A JNF partner organization, LOTEM brings the Land of Israel to all the people of Israel.

LOTEM also has a “Mitzvah-to-Mitzvah” program for bar and bat mitzvah youth to help them add meaning to their simcha. Bnai mitzvah can select LOTEM as their tzedakah project. On their next trip to Israel, they are invited to lead a hike or nature outing together with one of LOTEM’s soldier guides which culminates in a bar or bat mitzvah celebration on LOTEM’s farm.

To arrange a hike or nature outing with LOTEM on your next visit to Israel or to sign up for LOTEM’s Mitzvah-to-Mitzvah program, contact Alisa Bodner: 347-236-3262 or lotem@jnf.org.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Israel’s fire scouts learn life skills while helping save lives

The volunteer program gives teens responsibility for handling essential firefighting tasks, propelling many to future careers.

Scouts at the Fire and Rescue training school in Rishon LeZion. Photo courtesy of JNF

Scouts at the Fire and Rescue training school in Rishon LeZion. Photo courtesy of JNF

Not long ago, a fire broke out at a tire factory in the Beersheva industrial zone. Five firefighters raced to the scene, accompanied by 11 Fire Scouts – high school volunteers trained to perform essential background tasks such as laying down hoses and keeping all firefighting equipment functioning properly.

“It was inspiring to see them go through the process and to know that eventually many of them will become firefighters,” says Ariel Kotler, development officer for the Jewish National Fund’s operations in Israel.

Spread the Word
The Fire Scouts program (Zofei Esh in Hebrew), was established in 1959 by the Israel Firefighters Rescue Service. In 2003, the JNF partnered with Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF) to provide practical and financial support for the program.

As the Beersheva scene suggests, Israel’s Fire Scouts is not exactly equivalent to Fire Department Explorer programs for American and European youth. Firefighters at every one of Israel’s 103 fire stations depend on Fire Scouts to take care of critical tasks at a safe distance from the front lines.

“In Israel, there is one firefighter for every 7,500 thousand people, as compared to one for every 1,000 people in the United States,” says Yael Levontin, liaison between JNF and FIF. “There is a lack of manpower, so the Scouts are part of the integral system.”
Better citizens, better people
Fire Scouts is one of the community-service choices available to every high school student beginning in 10th grade. About 1,500 Israeli teens are involved in the movement this year.

“It instills the value of helping others, shaping them into better citizens and better people,” Levontin tells ISRAEL21c. “They experience success and failure and teamwork.”

Many more boys and girls apply than can be accepted. An interview process determines if they have the right stuff for the difficult job of assisting at fire and accident scenes.

“We’re teaching these kids to run into a place that we’re teaching everyone else to run out of,” as Kotler puts it. “They have to be capable and courageous.”
In many Israeli communities, teens at risk receive special consideration as Fire Scouts. “A lot of the kids come from places where they don’t have anything productive to do after school, and instead they are taught about taking responsibility and they become part of a bigger community,” says Levontin.
“For kids from problematic homes, the firefighters are good role models and ‘big brothers.’ The program gives meaning to their lives and has a major impact,” Kotler tells ISRAEL21c.

Fire ambassadors

During 50 hours of training at their local fire stations, scouts learn to operate fire trucks, ladders and hoses, as well as rescue techniques. They study how fires begin, spread and are extinguished, and how to handle gas leaks and dangerous chemicals.

Fire Scout Eliana Lewis at Neot Kedumim nature reserve. Photo courtesy of JNF
Fire Scout Eliana Lewis at Neot Kedumim nature reserve. 

“After basic training, they are required to volunteer once every two weeks at the fire station, but I haven’t yet met a Fire Scout who doesn’t come more often,” says Kotler. “There is an adrenalin rush and an amazing feeling of riding on a fire truck, going to save lives, and then leaving the scene knowing you made a difference.”

According to Fire Scout Aryeh Levinson, 18, “It’s like a family there, and you feel you’re really doing something – you’re not just watching.”

Levinson began Fire Scouts with 10 boys from his sophomore class in Jerusalem, serving at two different stations over the next three years and helping out with house fires and forest fires. “A forest fire is scary but I didn’t feel I was in danger,” says Levinson, who emigrated with his family from New York seven years ago.

Now he is in a hesder yeshiva (combining army service and learning) in Sderot, and plans to continue volunteering at a fire station there. Eventually, he wants to be a firefighter. A couple of Israel’s current regional fire chiefs began as Fire Scouts.

In addition to ongoing training, scouts help patrol and secure large gatherings such as Independence Day celebrations. They also serve as “ambassadors” at school or community fire safety-education events.

Scouts save the day

Team Commander Shimon Chaim, a firefighter who supervised scouts for the last four years in Jerusalem, says the capital city’s 130 professional firefighters are assisted by more than 90 Fire Scouts.

“We make them into good people and good citizens. They’re not hanging out in the streets,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Fire Scouts with Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovich at an awards ceremony after completing training. Photo courtesy of JNF
Fire Scouts with Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovich at an awards ceremony after completing training. 

In July 2010, a blaze in the Jerusalem Forest brought out firefighters from all six local stations, leaving few firefighters to handle other calls. When the Romema station was alerted to a house fire, the skeleton crew responded along with a team of Fire Scouts.

“They saved the day,” Chaim says. “They laid out the hoses and worked the pumps so the firefighters could go into the burning apartment, where they saved two 18-month-old babies. I don’t want to think about how it would have ended if not for the Scouts.”

One incident did not end as happily. In December 2010, Elad Riven, a Fire Scout from Haifa, saw the smoke of the Carmel Forest fire and left school to run and help. The uniformed 16-year-old soon came across a burning bus filled with Prison Service cadets going to evacuate a nearby jail. Tragically, Elad lost his life trying to save the cadets, 40 of whom died.

Following this disaster, the JNF and FIF stepped up their participation in the training and equipping of the Fire Scouts. Today, the teen volunteers are taken on heritage trips around Israel to better understand the land they are protecting, and their new uniforms make them more easily differentiated from professional firefighters.

Fire Scouts can connect through a Facebook page, and take part in monthly meetings and evaluations with their mentors.

“It gives us a lot of pride knowing we are training the next generation of firefighters,” says Kotler. “And it’s not just about that, but about being better people and giving rather than taking.”


AMHSI2.jpgOctober 2, 2013 -- New York, NY -- Zionism claimed a victory this week when Jewish National Fund (JNF) announced a new and expanded partnership with the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). Pursuant to an agreement unanimously approved by both JNF’s Board of Directors and Board of Trustees as well as by AMHSI, JNF will appoint all members of AMHSI’s Board of Directors and integrate AMHSI’s operations into JNF’s broad array of educational initiatives.
“Many people in the Jewish world today – even the most committed – are afraid of the ‘Z’ word: Zionism,” said JNF Chief Executive Officer Russell F. Robinson. “Not Jewish National Fund. It is part of our everyday vernacular -- whether we speak to young or old, whether we are talking about our work in Israel or our Zionist educational activities here in the U.S., when we refer to our rich history and when we speak about our vital and promising future. This enhanced partnership between JNF and AMHSI will catapult Zionist education to the next level.”
As the single largest provider of Zionist education in the U.S., Jewish National Fund offers myriad ways to connect young American Jews to Israel – from trips to b’nai mitzvah projects to education and advocacy programs.
For over 40 years, AMHSI has led the field in providing transformative pluralistic Israel experiences for high school students. AMHSI has developed fully accredited academic programs for teens to strengthen their Jewish identity while developing deep-rooted connections to Jewish life, to the Jewish people, and to Israel. Today, the school has more than 20,000 alumni – many of whom are active leaders in their Jewish communities.
While JNF and AMHSI have enjoyed a long-standing partnership, both JNF and AMHSI see this new relationship as greatly beneficial to the greater Jewish community.
“As the parent of two children who attended a semester program at the Hod Hasharon campus,” said Joseph Wolfson, Assistant Vice President of JNF and member of the AMHSI Board, “I know that AMHSI provides a unique experience for children to learn about the history of the Jewish people, our connection to the Land of Israel, and our Zionist heritage. JNF, being the original Zionist organization and having a broad array of Zionist education initiatives, is a natural partner for AMHSI. When the opportunity for JNF and AMHSI to work even more closely arose, I was an immediate supporter, and our review and work to bring together the relationship only reinforced my view. I am excited about the possibilities we have to work together and look forward to great success. I know that this partnership can have a lasting and enormous impact on the next generation of Zionist leaders.” 
“All through the years I have had great respect for the activities of Jewish National Fund,” said Stephen Muss, Chair of AMHSI. “JNF is famous for planting millions of trees, water conservation, and dedication to Israel and the Negev. JNF and AMHSI have had a growing relationship over the years that has led to the Board of Trustees of both JNF and AMHSI to approve an even greater integration of AMHSI, so that both organizations can consolidate their educational efforts and we can focus on what’s important: teenage Israel experience, Jewish continuity and Zionist education.”
Orit Rome, newly named AMHSI Co-Executive Director who has served in many roles including Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, will now work in partnership with the new Co-Executive Director, Rabbi Leor Sinai.
Leor made Aliyah with his family in June 2011. His professional resume includes the Dan Hotels of Israel, Jewish National Fund, The Jewish Lens, Hillel Israel, and The Jewish Agency for Israel. Leor was ordained in 2009 at The Jewish Theological Seminary and works passionately to build networks of Jews worldwide with Israel at their center. 
Leor and Orit will run the day-to-day operations of the school, managing the marketing, fundraising, education, finances, facilities, and overall administration. Rabbi Philip Nadel will continue as the head of the school, doing an outstanding job of keeping AMHSI’s educational standards at a very high level.
“We are all about growth and about the development of the next generation of leaders,” said JNF Chairman of the Board Ronald S. Lauder. “AMHSI is the leading high school program in Israel and we take great pride in the knowledge that our oversight and operation of AMHSI will help ensure another generation of students. We believe in it – in its history and its future. We have a moral obligation to make sure the school continues to thrive. And we will.”
“When I was at Muss,” said Matisyahu, popular musician and Sept. ’95 alum, “it was probably the first time in my life that I felt that being Jewish was something that was important and there was something to be discovered.”
Said AMHSI alum (June ’82) Wayne Firestone, former President and CEO of Hillel: The Foundation of Jewish Campus Life: “AMHSI is a program that speaks in such universal terms to all young people and allows them to have an intellectual and personal connection to explore their Jewish identities.”