Thursday, December 24, 2015

Festival connects Israelis of all backgrounds with a traditional Christmas

By Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Hundreds of Israelis headed north this week for a taste of something they don't usually get to experience -- a traditional Christmas in the Western Galilee. Despite chilly temperatures and drizzling rain, nearly 700 people flocked from all over the country for the fourth Western Galilee Now Winter Festival to see how their Christian neighbors celebrate.

Tour guide Amnon Gofer, who led a geopolitical tour through the Arab city of Tarshiha, said Israelis are driven by a deep innate curiosity. "It doesn’t say in the Torah 'sit and learn,'" he said. "It says 'go and learn.'"

Friday, December 18, 2015

Stint at Israel war memorial inspires Philly resident's aliyah and IDF dreams

Emanuel Goss and Yoel Rosby at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. 

It was love at first sight. Emanuel Goss had never been to Israel before, but after spending a semester there in the 11th grade, he knew he wanted to make aliyah. Now that the 26-year-old former Philadelphia resident has realized his dream, he is at work on another one: He wants to become a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Student's revelation atop Masada: 'In that moment I knew why I was Jewish'

AMHSI student Ivy Bernstein on top of Masada. 

Ivy Bernstein, a current student at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, shares her reflections on climbing Masada with her classmates.

Waking up at 4:15 a.m. is never ideal, especially when breakfast consists of plastic-wrapped hard-boiled eggs, and you know an hour of intense cardio lies ahead. Despite these obvious discomforts, adrenaline poured through my veins on the morning of September 18, when I knew I would be climbing Masada. Our whole grade chanted together and played games to pass the time as we hiked, but soon enough the steps became closer together, and speaking became too difficult. 

The winding, daunting snake path slithered up the mountain, and I placed one foot in front of the other, my heart racing and my sweat dripping. 

The sun rose with us.

Friday, December 11, 2015

'I just did it!': Making the sensory wonders of Hanukkah accessible to all

Using the wheelchair accessible olive press at the
Emek Hashalom Farm. 
On a bright Israeli winter's day that just happens to be the second day of Hanukkah, children are busy making fresh olive oil. But the press they're using, modeled after the ancient presses found throughout Israel, is subtly different. 

The long beam used to turn the crushing stone is exactly the right height for a person in a wheelchair. The floor is marked by rough patches of rubber to indicate to the visually impaired when they are getting close to the press. Baskets of olives at various stages of pressing are on hand to demonstrate by touch, taste, and smell how the process works.  

As the group finishes pressing their olives and claiming small bottles to take back to their school, one boy cannot contain his excitement. Smiling widely, he tells Naama, a young soldier-educator, "I have always seen olive presses and dreamed of being strong enough to turn one myself. I just did it!"

Monday, December 7, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: Dachau visit changes Vietnam's vet's life forever

Paul Jeser at his plaque dedication at JNF's Wall of Honor in Jerusalem with his wife Faye Jeser (left) and L.A. philanthropist Gitta Nagel. 

Here, another story of a Jewish military veteran honored at JNF's Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. 

Paul Jeser during his U.S. Army days. 
Dressed in his U.S. Army jacket, wearing a pin-studded army beret, Paul Jeser approaches the Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill and takes in the rows of plaques. Each plaque displays a name, an army from around the world, and the years that person served in the army. What makes this wall different from similar monuments is that it is not a memorial wall, it is a wall of honor, and today Jeser and his family and friends have traveled from Los Angeles to unveil the plaque that will honor his service during the Vietnam War. 

Born and raised in the Bronx, Jeser was drafted as a graduate student and left his MBA studies behind to heed the call of duty. Although Jeser was not a rabbi, he ran a Jewish chaplaincy program from 1969-1971 in Augsburg, Germany, a complex time and place to be a Jew. On the one hand, he served with many Americans who had never even met a Jew before. On the other, he got to know the large, mostly Eastern European Jewish community of Augsburg. Hearing firsthand testimony from Holocaust survivors at a time when Germany was still hiding from its past left a permanent mark on Jeser and he started to feel a stronger connection not just to his Jewish identity, but to the Jewish world at large.

Friday, December 4, 2015

In the JNF Kitchen: Osi's golden Hanukkah sufganiyot

In Israel, Hanukkah is synonymous with sufganiyot, round jelly doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar, fried in oil and eaten in commemoration of the miracle of Hanukkah. They're so popular that a staggering estimated 24 million sufganiyot are sold each Hanukkah season in Israel!

This sufganiyot recipe is brought to us by Osnat Lankri, one of the regular and talented contributors to JNF's ongoing #RecipeOfTheWeek series. Osi owns a catering business Osi’s events in Ofakim, a small town west of Be'er Sheva in the Negev. Her delicious cuisine reflects her Moroccan and Iraqi roots.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bird watcher's Israel adventure brings soaring sights in the sky and on the ground

Photo: David Spalter

By David Spalter

When I first read about the Jewish National Fund’s birding center in Northern Israel’s Hula Valley, I immediately began planning a visit. As an avid birder, I felt compelled to witness the migration that happens each spring and fall, when 500 million birds travel across the Upper Galilee. Still, when I spoke of my plan, many expressed puzzlement at the notion of traveling over 6,000 miles to see some birds.

Of course, this was not the sole purpose of my trip. I had a much larger agenda. It is my strong belief that anything that draws visitors to Israel is of paramount importance to the Jewish state. In addition to the direct economic impact, being "on the ground" is the only way to fully appreciate Israel's struggles, its triumphs, and its unquestionable value. This is a concept I wish to promote within my community. However, to effectively sell this concept, first I had to live it. And so, "Operation Come for the Birds, Stay for the Zionism" commenced.

New JNFuture group in Israel marries urban pioneering, love of the land

By Mayann Jaffe 

Young leaders tend to be agents of change. Members of JNFuture are no different. They are a mix of high-impact Jewish young people living in the diaspora who are willing to commit their time, leadership, talents, and resources to strengthen Israel through the lens of Jewish National Fund.

But what happens when these same young leaders live in the Holy Land? You get the newest chapter of JNFuture -- a chapter on a mission not only to see how JNF transforms Israeli society and the land, but also living JNF.

"We are the kibbutz galuyot (gathering of Israel) that JNF talks about," says Natalie Solomon, director of the Am Yisrael Foundation. Her organization is JNF's newest Israeli partner. The foundation partnered with JNF in October 2015 and also serves as the umbrella for the Tel Aviv JNFuture chapter.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: Horrors of WWII spurred decades of Jewish communal service

Next up in our series profiling soldiers named on JNF's Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill, Judy Levin remembers her dad, who left a lasting mark on the Jewish community of Columbus, Ohio, and beyond. 

My father's name is Ben M. Mandelkorn. He was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1914 to Russian immigrant parents. He worked his way through Rutgers University and the University of North Carolina Graduate School of Social Work.

Upon completing his education, my father enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, attaining the rank of captain. He attended the Army Officer Candidate School and commanded a mobile military hospital, a forerunner of the MASH units of today. He was stationed in North Africa, Marseille, and Germany. After the Battle of the Bulge, he went with the generals to liberate the concentration camps. It was then that he decided to devote his life to his fellow Jews.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

U.S. teen finds new purpose 6,000 miles from home: 'I plan to make aliyah one day'

Noelle Chin-Vance says her six weeks studying in Israel changed her. "I am no longer afraid to walk into the world
and be myself," she says.  

Noelle Chin-Vance reflects below on the life-changing experience that was her time at Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Read on to find out how this American teen connected to her roots during her six weeks at the study-abroad program for high-schoolers. .

At a Save A Child's Heart Event. 
Every life is filled with unique events and experiences that shape each individual. Those who are lucky can identify a defining experience that had the most impact. I count myself among the lucky ones. Though I literally started life in a box in Dianbai, China, way back in 1998, there is at least one event that defined me even more. 

There were certainly a lot of important moments along the way, like when I was adopted in May of 2000, at the age of 2, by my loving parents. I met many influential people throughout my educational adventures at Assurant Satellite Learning Center, Arvida Middle School, and finally at Terra Environmental Research Institute. I had many formative experiences during my summers at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia. All of these experiences helped make me who I am today. 

But one life-changing experience stands out above all the rest. It began when I stepped onto a plane to Israel to join the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program.

Friday, November 20, 2015

'You have to dream big': Meet Myron Stayman, a man on a (mega) mission

Myron Stayman.jpg
Myron Stayman
Myron D. Stayman is many things. He is a husband, father, and grandfather. He is a top wealth management professional with Merrill Lynch. He is also a Jewish communal lay leader involved in the Dade and Broward County Jewish federations in Florida, as well as his synagogue and Jewish National Fund. 

But mostly, he is a man on a mission.

"Who am I? I am a Jew. The Jewish people will survive without me. 
But maybe they will survive better if I am a part of them. That is who I am. That is tikkun olam," Stayman says during a recent interview in a Jerusalem coffee shop.

With passion and poignancy, Stayman recalls the first time he witnessed JNF's work. It was on a solidarity mission to southern Israel during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, also known as Operation Cast Lead. He says he saw then -- and continues to believe -- that the work JNF does in Israel is "important, vital, and necessary."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: From WWII army medic to trial attorney, she always had a sense of humor

Dinah M. Selvin worked as an army 
medic during WWII. 
This story in our series profiling soldiers named on JNF's Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill recalls a woman who dedicated her life to public service. 

Dinah M. Selvin wore many hats during her 90 years, among them first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, physical therapist, public defender, and supporter of Jewish National Fund. 

Her executor, Norman Friedman, who worked with Dinah and was her close personal friend for 40 years, said Dinah should be remembered for a lifetime of public service. 

Born in 1920, Dinah was raised in Springfield, Mass., by parents Ira and Ida, who immigrated from Russia and believed strongly in education. Dinah graduated from Smith College. Dinah’s late sister, Dr. Beatrice L. Selvin, was an anesthesiologist and University of Maryland medical school professor.

During her army service, Dinah went overseas to England and served in a medical clinic there, helping wounded soldiers. After the war, she returned to the U.S., where she worked as a physical therapist. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: Bronze Star WWII flyer hatched creative scheme to sell war bonds

Charles Blumenfeld (left) poses with a bomb labeled Harry Bunderoff, 
the name of a cousin who purchased a war bond. 
We continue our series profiling the soldiers named on JNF's Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill with Charles Blumenfeld. Plaques on the wall pay tribute to Jewish military veterans worldwide who have served their countries.

Before the U.S. entered World War II, Charles "Red" Blumenfeld heard rumors of the horrors Jews were facing in Europe. This spurred the American to enlist in the Canadian Royal Air Force, and he graduated flight school with honors. Once the U.S. entered the war, Blumenfeld flew for the U.S. Air Force, 42 missions, returning home with his entire crew and going on to win military honors including the Bronze Star.  

"Dad was one of many true patriots, and a hero," says his son Alan Blumenfeld, shown in the photo below dedicating a plaque at Ammunition Hill in his father's memory in 2011.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: West Point, WWII and a desk at the Pentagon

Irving Schoenberg in 1960 at his desk in the Pentagon. He served as executive assistant to undersecretary of the Air Force, after which he was awarded the Legion of Merit.

Next up in our series profiling the soldiers named on JNF's Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill is a proud military veteran and Jewish National Fund donor who just turned 90. 

Irving Schoenberg grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri, born into a family with a strong love for the Jewish people and Israel. He had an interest in going to the military throughout high school, even participating in a cadet program during his formative years. He graduated Central High School in 1943, in the middle of World War II, so he knew he was going straight to the army ("everyone old enough to walk was going to the military," he says). 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: 'Regular guy from the Bronx' whose unit liberated a concentration camp

Lester Mintz, in his U.S. Army days.
Next up in our series on soldiers honored at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, Estelle Mintz remembers her husband Lester. JNF's Wall of Honor pays tribute to the courage and heroism of Jewish soldiers worldwide who have fought in defense of their countries in numbers disproportionately high considering their representation in the general population.

By Estelle Mintz

Lester was a sweet, friendly, funny, and sometimes silly and corny, regular guy from the Bronx. He was drafted into the army when he was only 18 years old and it was the first time he had ever traveled. That army time was the experience of his lifetime. He was eternally fascinated with everything World War II-related.

His unit (the 104th Infantry Division, or Timberwolves) liberated the Nordhausen concentration camp in Germany on April 12, 1945. He almost never spoke of it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: Top doctor modeled U.S. medical care for nations devastated by war

Dr. Edward Diamond (left, pictured in Jerusalem 
in 1968), felt a strong connection to Israel. 
This is the third story in our series about the soldiers named on JNF's Wall of Honor, which pays tribute to Jewish military veterans worldwide. Today, on Veterans Day, we remember the late Dr. Edward Diamond, a leading American obstetrician and gynecologist with a strong connection to Israel. 

Dr. Edward Diamond, who served as a captain in the the U.S. Army and was discharged as a major, entered the army after the Korean War, when compulsory military service was on its way out. Some of his major achievements included perfecting microsurgical techniques in reproductive medicine and developing patented surgical tools and techniques still in use today.

Diamond, who served in the army from 1955-1958, chose to enlist both out of a conviction for serving his country and a desire to improve medical services for the army, particularly ob-gyn care for enlisted women or wives of enlisted men. Having recently finished his ob-gyn residency, he viewed serving as both a challenge and an opportunity to enlarge the scope of his medical experience.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: Rebbe's lawyer owes his life to pork chops

Jerome Shestack and his little sister Louise Dabrow.
This is the second in our series telling the stories behind the names on JNF's Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. Plaques on the wall pay tribute to Jewish military veterans worldwide who have served their countries.

Jerome Shestack, born in 1923, was a Philadelphia lawyer and human-rights activist. Shestack served in the United States Navy as a first lieutenant from 1943-1946.

"I could not have found a more appropriate place to honor him," his sister Louise Dabrow said of dedicating a plaque at the Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill in Shestack’s memory. "He served his country and he would have been so proud to be remembered at Ammunition Hill, a place that pays tribute to all who fought for their countries."

Before he left to serve in the navy, Shestack, a grandson of rabbis, asked his own rabbi how he could keep kosher while at sea. The rabbi told him he had to eat whatever he was given to keep up his strength as he was serving his country. One day, while on the American aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, the mess hall served pork chops. Shestack couldn't bring himself to eat them, so he skipped the meal and stayed on the upper deck. The ship was bombed that day, and 75 officers who were in the mess hall died.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Jewish veterans of honor: Balloon sniper on the frozen tundra

Russell Robinson, CEO of Jewish National Fund, stands beside the plaque honoring his father Richard
at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. 

At Ammunition Hill, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Six Day War and today a historical preservation and memorial site, visitors will see a wall of plaques. It's Jewish National Fund's Wall of Honor, which pays tribute to the courage and heroism of Jewish soldiers worldwide who have fought in defense of their countries in numbers disproportionately high considering their representation in the general population. Throughout November, in honor of Veterans Day, we'll share stories of the soldiers honored on these plaques in Jerusalem. We start with Richard Robinson, father of JNF CEO Russell Robinson.

By Russell Robinson

My father, Richard Robinson, had a heart as big as the state of Texas, yet he was tough, worked hard all of his life, provided for his family, and gave generously of himself whenever he was needed or asked.
Richard Robinson with his wife, Ruth. 
My family traces its heritage back to one of the first Jewish settlers of Virginia, with military roots -- my great-grandfather fought in the Civil War and my grandfather, in World War I. When my father was young, the family moved to Canada to start a line of haberdashery stores, but my grandfather had always retained his American citizenship and once a year would bring his family back to the United States just so no one would ever question that they were American citizens.

When World War II broke, my father was attending McGill University in Montreal. He also happened to be playing professional football for the Montreal Aquenots! But witnessing the horrors of World War II, and hearing the stories of our Jewish people, he felt impassioned to defend democracy and join the army in some way. The United States was not entering the war at the time, but Canada was. So he enlisted and became a member of the Canadian Royal Air Force.

Friday, November 6, 2015

In the JNF Kitchen: Heavenly hummus

Ah, hummus. It's not only the heavenly spread that makes its appearance at almost every meal in Israel, it's also the dish that unites Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, because everyone loves it equally. It is at the heart of a shared food culture that goes beyond nationality and politics.

There are many variations of the dish, but this hummus recipe is brought to us by Chef Uri Arnon, who owns restaurant Arnold's in Moshav Nativ Hashayara, voted one of Israel's 10 best kosher gourmet restaurants!

Uri opened Arnold's to shatter the myth of "kosher or delicious." Arnold's is a Galilee bistro menu with French and Mediterranean touches and it features a wide-ranging list of Israeli wines that mesh perfectly with the atmosphere and the dishes presented, as well as fine-quality draft beer, and excellent desserts, including homemade sorbets.

Uri is a member of JNF partner organization Western Galilee Now, a consortium of small businesses in the region. See our gallery below for more scenes from the area.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Green dreams: Innovative urban farm in Negev wins environmental prize

JNF Wire Earths Promise Pic4.jpg
An Earth's Promise member works with 
Ethiopian children at a Be'er Sheva urban farm. 
By June Glazer

In keeping with Jewish National Fund's Blueprint Negev initiative, which aims to revitalize Israel’s southern region, the country’s environmental ministry last week awarded its prestigious Environmental Prize of the Negev to Earth’s Promise. Earth’s Promise, a JNF partner, is an organization that promotes environmental sustainability and urban agriculture in Be'er Sheva and other Israeli cities. 

Be'er Sheva, once a sleepy, dusty desert town, today is a sprawling, bustling city that is often referred to as the "capital of the Negev." It is the seventh most populous city in Israel, and in recent years, has become home to a large influx of Ethiopian immigrants. It is for them that Earth’s Promise was started in 2007. 

"The idea behind it was to help make our city green, but to do it in a community fashion,” said Ethelea Katzenell, an Earth's Promise founding board member, who recounted how a committee was formed to work with the Kalisher Absorption Center, where many Ethiopians lived. "Since their background was mostly agrarian, we thought we could help them to literally sink new roots into their new country by starting a community garden with them," she said. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

U.S. high school students run Tel Aviv race, discover their Jewish selves

AMHSI Tel Aviv Night Run.jpg
AMHSI students gather for a photo after the Tel Aviv Night Run.

By Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Hannah and Beatrice have travelled a long way from Boston to run through the normally crowded streets of Tel Aviv in the city’s seventh annual Tel Aviv Night Race. In the minutes before the race, they're dancing and screaming, along with a crowd of school friends and 20,000 others participants.

AMHSI Tel Aviv Night Run pic2.jpgBeatrice Fellman and Hannah Avery Peck, 16 and 17 years old (pictured right) are in Israel for a semester at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, which offers its students high school credits along with a taste of "authentic Israeli life," according to Mordechai Cohen, AMHSI's head of school. 

This was the school's third year bringing students to participate in the Tel Aviv Night Run, which this year started at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night in late October. As motorists across the city honked, cyclists swore and buses swerved around complicated detours leading up to the race, some 20,000 participants armed themselves against the night with glow sticks, brightly colored racing vests, and the roaring, pulsing beat of dance music.