Friday, June 23, 2017

Gratitude for lone soldier daughter's 'mom away from mom' in Israel

Adina, with her parents and NBN co-founder Tony Gelbart (second from left). 
By Rabbi Dr. Analia Bortz

It was on August 17, 2015 that Adina, our youngest daughter, wearing a T-shirt that read Olim L'Tzahal (moving to Israel to join the army), boarded an El Al plane. Our hearts burst with pride as parents who raised her in a deeply Zionist environment. 

The words of Arik Einstein’s song "Uf Gozal Chatoch et Hashamayim" sounded like a bombastic awakening: 

“Fly away my little bird, cut the sky
Fly where ever you want
Just don’t forget there is an eagle in the sky
Be aware, fly away.”

And then it dawned on me. 

Memorializing Richard Schoenstadt: Fierce Israel Advocate

The Schoenstadt clan at last year's event
By Kate Schoenstadt

The Richard Schoenstadt Memorial Foundation (RSMF) was established just after the first anniversary of Richard’s death by members of his immediate and extended family. We felt that Richard’s voice--his message--was far too great to disappear on June 13th, 2012, when we lost him to a 20+ year battle with leukemia. Every year, we build upon his legacy. Instead of recalling the way in which he was taken from us, we choose to continue the work he deemed the most important while he lived. 
Richard Schoenstadt

It wasn’t until 1997, when he had a wife and children of his own, that Richard traveled to Israel for the first time. His perspective shifted on this trip and the Jewish State of Israel shot to the top of his priority list, as this was very clearly a land worth fighting for. 

During the fifteen years following that trip, Richard became one of the fiercest, most relentless advocates for the Jewish State of Israel, even becoming a ‘go-to guy’ on the subject for politicians in Illinois. When asked what to do first in order to best educate themselves on Israeli history and issues surrounding the Jewish State, his answer was always "go to Israel, to experience it for yourself."

The world is not inhabited by very many Jews and therefore, it is vital that Jews do not stand alone in the fight to ensure Israel’s very existence. If it took an actual trip across the world for a 44-year-old Jewish attorney from Chicago to understand the importance of Israel's existence, imagine how imperative touching down on Israeli soil must be to convince someone who is not Jewish.

For this reason, RSMF has chosen to donate the proceeds of the 4th Annual 5k to JNF’s Caravan for Democracy program. Allowing a group of non-Jewish American university student leaders the chance to experience the land of Israel firsthand on an all-expenses paid trip might be one of the most important things we, as Jews, can do to better ensure the safety and survival of the Jewish State and of our people, in general. This is especially important due to the sometimes-hostile climate on college campuses. Furthermore, the student leaders of today will be the most influential voices of the professional world tomorrow. 

It is our belief that the continuation and the growth of this program will have lasting effects on the relationship between Israel and the United States by assisting non-Jews in developing personal relationships with the State of Israel.

We hope that you will join us for the 4th Anual RSMF 5k on July 8th, 2017, at Independence Grove in Libertyville, Illinois. To register, click here.

If you are unable to join us July 8th, please consider donating here

To learn more about the Richard Schoenstadt Memorial Foundation, click here.    

To learn more about Caravan for Democracy, please click here.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book preview: 'Becoming Israeli,' 40 personal tales of making aliyah

Akiva Gersh, center, a teacher at JNF partner Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Photo cred: Joey Rushfield

Beloved AMHSI teacher Akiva Gersh has just released a new book, "Becoming Israeli: The Hysterical, Inspiring and Challenging Sides of Making Aliyah." Here, he shares his story and an excerpt from the book, which is now available on Amazon.

By Akiva Gersh

As a kid growing up in New York, Israel was really far away. As in off the map. Not only because Israel was in the Middle East and I was in America; it was far away in heart and mind as well. I paid no attention to Israel and the people around me never spoke about it. I can only recall obscure memories of Israel from my childhood, like images of Israeli soldiers flashing across the screen during the 6 o'clock news or my Hebrew school’s honorable, but unsuccessful, attempt to get us students to like falafel. 

Fast forward many years. I'm fresh out of college and come to Israel with a backpack on my back after having traveled through West Africa for two months. My arrival in Israel was the climax of a three-year journey searching for more spirituality and deeper meaning. I had already begun to discover new and inspiring sides of Judaism that were previously unknown to me but I knew Israel held important answers to many of my still-lingering questions. My plan was to find those answers and then return to America to continue the rest of my life.

But something happened. Immediately I felt something in Israel that I never felt anywhere in the world at any point in my life. 

I felt a deep sense of being home.

Monday, June 12, 2017

How to entice employees to Israel's Negev? A brainstorm in the desert

By Tamar Gil, director of resource and development at Tor HaMidbar

Think of high-quality HR, and maybe a large high-tech company or fancy corporate business come to mind. It’s unlikely you'll think of a midsize chemical company in Southern Israel. But Hugo Speyer, HR director at Chemada on the Gaza border, along with dozens of other human-resource professionals, is working to change that. 

That desire for change took the spotlight recently, as history was made in the Negev. More than 150 senior HR personnel and representatives from more than two dozen employment agencies came together for the Negev’s first ever conference for human-resource professionals May 22. Organized by The Lauder Employment Center-Tor HaMidbar and the Southern Manufacturers Union, the conference offered a unique opportunity to connect the main players in Negev employment, and fostered a discussion on how to best show job seekers the desirability of jobs in the Negev.   

Friday, June 9, 2017

In the JNF Kitchen: From Israeli ice cream shop Buza, fresh fruit sorbet

Buza ice cream Israel

Ice cream shop Buza in Israel's Western Galilee has graced us with this delightful recipe for prickly pear or strawberry sorbet -- the flavor is up to you! 

Buza, the Arabic word for ice cream, is co-owned and operated by Alaa Sweetat, a local Muslim, and Adam Ziv, a Jew from Kibbutz Sasa. Their ice cream is Italian-inspired and produced from the finest ingredients, 100 percent natural. Their main store is located in the center of Maalot-Tarshicha, a Jewish-Arab town in the culturally diverse Western Galilee. Friends Sweetat and Ziv are models for co-existence. What brings people together if not ice cream?!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

JNF Women: 'JNF more than the tzedakah box,' says Lila Chertman

The author, center, on the JNFuture Volunteer Vacation trip. 
By Lila Chertman

I have a deep sense of gratitude to my parents for inculcating my brothers and I with a love for Judaism and Israel. They worked very hard to afford sending us to Jewish day school, camps, trips, you name it, to make sure we not only knew about the history of our people but felt it tug at our heartstrings in all aspects of our lives. By college I was getting involved with political advocacy on behalf of the US-Israel relationship, and throughout medical school and residency I carved out time to stay involved, whether by working as a cantorial soloist leading religious services, learning from inspirational Jewish leaders by reading their books, attending conferences, or bringing my favorites to teach my friends and colleagues at lunch-and-learns I organized. But traveling to Israel on different programs was always the highlight because it made everything tangible, and left me with a taste of wanting more.

JNF Women: For Maia Aron, a 'beshert' connection to JNF

By Maia Aron

JNF, like many things in my life, was beshert. Before I tell you about why JNF is so important to me, let me tell you a bit about myself. I was born in Paraguay. Half my family is in Israel, and the other half in Paraguay. Both sides escaped Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s and found refuge in South America. I am a commercial litigator at a firm called Kozyak Tropin in Miami, Florida. I am married to Alex, the love of my life.

Two years ago, JNF Miami board president Ron Kriss invited me to a JNF event. I went and loved what I saw, but didn’t see young professionals there. So I decided to get involved and do my part to help JNF and Israel. I wanted to add my voice, with JNF’s help and Ron’s leadership. I told Ron I would get JNFuture Miami restarted. So exactly two years ago, I got a small board together and became president of my JNFuture chapter, and we haven’t stopped since. Our JNFuture chapter is strong and we are continuing to grow. We are a pioneer chapter!