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.