Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Last Post (but wait ... there's more ....)

I'm switching over to my new blog at our Federation's website ... you can follow and find me at

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tiny inner sparks of possibility

Twenty five years ago ... I was a lone soldier in the Israeli Air Force. I had left my family behind and moved to Israel. I loved the army, I loved service. But it was tough, and the support I received from programs that are supported by our Federation were critical.

These programs for lone soldiers are still there, and in many ways much stronger. Through partners like the Jewish Agency for Israel, we help with mentoring, counseling, preparing for civilian life, and much more. It makes me particularly proud because of who I was. But it makes me even prouder because of the statement it makes. That we care about Israel. That we care about its soldiers. And ... that we love and care for the soldiers who leave their families and move to Israel to support its defense. Especially those from GMW. 

Recently I had the privilege to sit with parents of lone soldiers from our community. There are over twenty lone soldiers from GMW serving in the IDF. Our Jewish Family Services has set up a free support group for parents of lone soldiers in the IDF - if you're a parent of a lone soldier in the IDF you can get more information from their group liaison Lee Dagger or by phone at 973-765-9050. If you need a safe space to share experiences, get ideas and find support, this would be a great place to start.

Sitting with the group, I heard from many of the parents the pride they felt, their challenges and their hopes. 
But I also saw the strength and values of our community. Our federation is rooted in Israel through our partnerships, our peoplehood programs, missions and more. 

I don't know what the parents will decide to do as a group. But I hope we can find ways to help them and their sons and daughters. I hope we can help them fan the tiny inner sparks of possibility.

Golda Meir once said, "Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.  Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The essence

I had lunch recently with my colleague Noga Maliniak, one of our Federation's representatives in Israel. Noga served in the army for over twenty years, and was a shlicha - an emissary - several times in the United States.

Many of those who work in federation have a 'back-story.' A reason why we came. A reason why we fell in love with the calling. I didn't need to ask Noga her reason*: she's been dedicated all her life to Israel and the Jewish People.

Over lunch we discussed the struggle for pluralism and religious choice in Israel. Greater MetroWest has a long and proud history of standing at the forefront of this struggle. And Noga's story is the essence of what we support. When her daughter was approaching Bat-Mitzvah age, she turned to Noga and said, "... and will I go up to read from the Torah?"

And Noga, born and raised in Israel, never having questioned what she was told was the 'only way' ... was about to say 'no.' And then she stopped and checked herself. "Let me find out," she said.
And she found out. And she learned.

Seeing that there was no viable alternative in Rosh Ha'ayin, Noga invited friends round. And the friends invited friends. And fifty people turned up for shabbat services. And those shabbat services became the progressive congregation of Rosh Ha'ayin - a pluralistic, egalitarian community that supports and upholds Jewish tradition and learning.

The kind of Jewish life we help build at home, in Israel and around the world.

* But you should. Take her out to lunch when she's next here, or when you go to Israel.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What have we done?

Because of you ... we've been able to help Israel's most vulnerable, stimulate economic recovery and strengthen resilience in Israel these past few weeks.

Trauma support and counseling
Strengthening support to 22 communities hit hardest by the conflict
Relief and support for Israel's bravest - IDF soldiers, hospital workers, and more
Economic recovery for small Israeli businesses
Helping the disabled and most vulnerable in the line of fire

... And much more.

Here's one look at the work we're supporting, from our colleagues in JDC ... if you supported the Israel Emergency Campaign, this is what we're able to do because of you. Not too late to give.

And if you supported the Annual UJA Campaign (ready? We're about to start again) you should know that we're able to do this because of the infrastructure you helped put in place.

So ... thank you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Nobody can be exactly like me"*

One of the most interesting aspects of my pre-boarding process, as I get ready to assume the responsibilities of federation Exec, is learning about my colleagues.

So I asked all the professionals in federation to send me their bios and photos. This way I can at least say hello to people and know who they are as I roam the halls in search of coffee.

Reading through the bios has been a fascinating, humbling and rewarding experience. It taught me several things:

1)    We have an amazingly international professional team. We come from Israel, the UK, Russia, Ukraine, the Phillipines, Columbia, Azerbaijan and many States of the Union.

2)    Many of us are and have been ‘clients’ of our federated agencies. JVS, Jespy House, JFS and more are intertwined in our lives. Many of us have come through Camps, Hillels, JCCs, Synagogues and Jewish Schools.The relationships we have with our agencies are deep, meaningful and personal.

3)    Many of us have close family and friendship ties to Israel. Israel isn’t ‘somewhere else.’ It’s at the heart of the federation and its professional team.

*The quote is from the great actress Tallulah Bankhead, "Nobody can be exactly like me: sometimes even I have trouble doing it."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

It doesn't take a rocket scientist

Many many years ago, when I was in the (Israeli) army, a friend of mine was a combat instructor for new immigrants. At the time, early '90s, many of the Russian-speaking olim (new immigrants) were starting to enlist in the army. This changed the nature of how the army saw itself. The army became more tolerant of lone soldiers, more understanding of cultural differences.

Meital, the combat instructor, told me once that she was taking a group of Russian-speaking immigrants in a 'shlav bet' basic training weapons course. These guys are the older recruits, who serve for maybe three months and then just do reserve duty. Often they're academics and professionals. Exasperated one night as she was trying to explain how to take apart and reassemble an M-16 rifle, she exclaimed, "nu, really, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand how to take apart an M-16."

"But we are rocket scientists," said one of the new recruits. "All of us."

Which (loosely) connected me to an inspiring visit I had recently at one of our flagship partners - the JCC of MetroWest, NJ. I went there to learn about our programs and the partnership we have. About high-quality professionals and thousands of participants. About ageing-in-place programs and special-needs day programs. It's a vibrant, Jewish home and center. And for its CEO Alan Feldman, the list of achievements and 'puff-points' (where you puff up your chest in pride) is long.

"We are the response to the Pew Report," he said. Connection, community, involvement, participation. It's all the stuff we know. But you have to do it. You have to be committed to it. And you have to inspire those who come in to explore their identity and feel comfortable doing so.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has*

I think that some people look around the world and see obstacles and problems and despair. And others look around them and see challenges to be faced and overcome. Some people change the world every day.

There are lots of things you can do to help Israel right now. The best way is to donate to the annual campaign and the Israel Emergency Campaign – they help us support Israel’s most vulnerable, with trauma counseling, strengthening infrastructure, reinforcing volunteers and emergency support.

You can also show your creativity and inspiration. That’s what Maxine Schwartz has done. You can get her beautiful bracelets and help Israel at the same time. 100% of her profits go to the Israel Emergency Campaign. She’s raised over $18,000 from over 500 people.

If you want to be inspired by her impact, read the comments and reviews she receives too.

People like Maxine change the world and make it better. Every day.

The quote is by anthropologist and author Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Using our names

"Many Irish Jews," said the Jewish Museum curator to me, "came here by mistake.  They came from Poland and Lithuania, and when the ship captain called out 'Cork,' they thought he said 'New York.'
So they stayed."

I'm not sure about the historic truth of the statement, but it makes a nice story. I've spent the last few days in Ireland and it's been a fascinating experience.  There are countries where we say to American Jewish tourists "don't identify as Americans." There are others where we say, "don't identify publicly as Jews." There are even some countries that love us, and we jokingly tell Canadians and Australians to pretend to be Americans.

Ireland is different.  Warm, kind, friendly. Tolerant and beautiful.
But in Ulster, Northern Ireland, there was something else too. Decades of the "Troubles" have carved a deep chasm in society.  The murals are everywhere, the memorials, the weight of history. I went to the second-most bombed hotel in the world, the Europa (#1 is the Mumbai Hilton).  And I toured the worst areas of sectarian divide, the "Peace Wall," the Orange marching areas, and more.
There are a lot of Palestinian flags draped from windows in the Republican areas. A lot of notices and slogans calling for Palestine to overthrow Israeli rule.

At the Republican museum, amidst Soviet-made weaponry and pro-Palestinian notices. I met with Sean, a big, strong middle-aged Irish Catholic man with a massive tattoo of Che Guevera on his forearm. "Can I take a photo of your tattoo?" I ask him,  "Sure," he said. I was waiting for him to ask me where I'm from - since I was ready to proudly wear my Union Jack/Magen David/Stars and Stripes on my sleeve. Or on a kippah.*

But he didn't.  So I asked him why he had a tattoo of Che on his arm. "Because it's a symbol. It's a symbol of what we stand for in the fight against imperialism, oppression and American colonialism. Because we have to stand up against the British and everything they've done to us. And we have to support the oppressed peoples against tyranny, like the Palestinians standing against the Israelis."

On the one hand, there's a lot there that I would have loved to debate and discuss. On the other hand, five minutes in the middle of a tour group probably won't do it. There was a series of discussions in foreign-policy circles a few years ago about why Irish Republicans support the Palestinians, and why many of the Irish Protestants support Israel. The bottom line was that in the end, you're going to project a lot of your own identity onto anything you read or watch anyway.

On the western hills surrounding Belfast is a huge "Viva Palestina" sign made out of painted white rocks. As we drove back to Dublin that evening our (Irish Catholic) guide pointed the sign to me. "It's not really about the Palestinians at all. Nor about the Israelis," he said. "It's about us. It's our story. We're just using your names."

*someone should totally make these.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

You should never remain neutral

I have friends and colleagues and acquaintances who followed the conflict. Good people, kind people. People who are wise and honest.

Several of them have told me in recent days that empathy for suffering in Gaza didn't/doesn't make you anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. Or pro-Hamas.

They’re right. This isn’t about them. 
I know it isn’t because these are people who just generally are empathetic.

But there are others. And this is about them.

It’s the first time I've heard them speak about suffering, and war crimes, and disproportionate use of force. They didn’t speak up when 700 Syrians were killed the other week in a 48-hour period. Nor did they protest when hundreds of thousands were killed in countless other conflicts around the world and the Middle East. They didn’t complain about ‘disproportionate’ kill-ratios when‘their’ troops were involved.

Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, said it best the other week … “If in the past year you didn’t cry out when thousands of protesters were killed and injured by Turkey, Egypt and Libya, when more victims than ever were hanged by Iran, women and children in Afghanistan were bombed, whole communities were massacred in South Sudan, 1800 Palestinians were starved and murdered by Assad in Syria, hundreds in Pakistan were killed by jihadist terror attacks, 10,000 Iraqis were killed by terrorists, villagers were slaughtered in Nigeria, but you only cry out for Gaza, then you are not pro Human Rights, you are only Anti-Israel.”

If you care about democracy and freedom, there was a clear right side and wrong side in this conflict. 
In Ambassador Derner’s words: "You should never be neutral between a democracy that shares your values and a terror organization that hates everything you stand for."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Flight and the Flag

This date is a special one. It holds so much promise, and so much heartbreak.

Twenty years ago today, Jordan’s King Hussein flew over Israel for the first time. He flew over Jerusalem and spoke to Prime Minister Rabin, saying how beautiful the city looked. At the same time, Israeli and Jordanian teams were cutting a hole in the Arava border fence to create a proper crossing. I was a student in Hebrew University. To make ends meet, I was a counselor for American students in the one-year program while preparing for the Foreign Ministry cadet course to be a diplomat. We were sitting in a dorm room - Americans, Israeli Jews and Palestinians - watching the live news coverage, excited, proud, inspired. 

This is what peace should be like. It happened today.

Forty five years ago today, Yigal Shochat and Moshe Goldwasser were taken prisoner by the Egyptian army when their F-4 Phantom was shot down in the War of Attrition. Goldwasser died in captivity, Shochat lost a leg and was later released. Their capture also happened today.

Since retirement, Shochat dedicated himself to peace, working as a doctor in Palestinian territories. He also led a public debate on the “black flag” concept of conscientious objectors, air force rules of conduct and the refusal to serve in the territories. I disagreed with much of his philosophy, but I was proud that a vibrant democracy can have a tough dispute about the rules of war. I was proud that our political system could encompass dissent and debate. And I was proud that Israel’s soldiers were at the frontline, defending our freedom and country.

May the memory of Lt. Hadar Goldin, and all those IDF soldiers, and all civilians killed in this tragic war, be for a blessing. May we see peace soon. And may our soldiers come home soon safe and sound.