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.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My last day

This is it.

My last day at JDC. I've been here for nine years. It's been an amazing, inspiring, meaningful time. I've seen unforgettable things, met incredible people and have never felt I was doing just a 'job.'

I'm grateful for every experience. For the incredible leadership I've seen - lay and professional, working in partnership. For the inspiring field staff and leaders in countries near and far. And for the donors, funders, federations and supporters who love the work of the Joint and its values.

They are our values.

On JDC's archival pages there is a special section, dedicated to those who lost their lives in service to JDC and the Jewish People. You should take a look: it's a beautiful, meaningful and touching expression of these values. Of our gratitude to "the few who saved the many." One of the most moving stories is that of the life, death and fate of Israel Friedlaender, which you can read here, especially the "eighty years later" story. As his grandson said, much much later, we remember not only those who fell, "but also the goals, the ideas and the mission that they filled in the service of the Jewish people."

Over the coming weeks I'm going to continue blogging here. I have a few more things to say. I'll start at the Jewish Federation in a month and I'll figure out the transitioning of my social-media-presence as well.

Recommendations, ideas, suggestions, comments, advice, guidance and wise experience welcome ...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The destination

My drash - Torah sermon - at Temple Beth El-Mekor Chayim, this Shabbat. 
The Parasha (Portion) is "Masei," Numbers 33:1-36:13

TBEMC Dvar 7/26/14 Parashat Masei
Numbers 33:1 - 36:13

Shabbat shalom

I have been clearing out my office and packing up my things.

As some of you may know, I am leaving my job at "the Joint", the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Next week is my last week.
Leaving the Joint was a very difficult decision. I’m proud to be the next CEO of our Jewish Federation. Proud and honored. We do amazing things, with amazing professionals and volunteers.

But leaving the Joint was a very difficult decision.

And one of the things I've been doing these past few weeks is clearing out my office.
Some things I’m going to keep, some things I haven’t quite decided yet what to do with them. Some things - like a particularly strong bottle of horseradish vodka - are here today for our kiddush.

And some things went pretty quickly into the trash. For example, I don’t know why, I had a huge collection of itineraries and boarding passes from Continental Airlines.
Long-forgotten journeys from a long-forgotten airline. Although to be honest, I do miss Continental.

I’m not entirely sure why I kept all these boarding passes and itineraries. Maybe it was to reassure myself that I’d been somewhere.
Believe me, I've been to lots of places these past few years. More than most people would ever want to go anywhere. And I have no complaints. None whatsoever.
I've seen amazing things, met with incredible leaders, and have felt at every step of the way that I was serving the Jewish people and doing something good.

But … at the end … here I am.
Right back where I started.
Normally, on itineraries and boarding passes, you’d see that the journey is marked by the destination. Not the point of origin. Normally, when we talk about our journeys, we talk about where we’re going. Not where we’re coming from.
So it says, at the beginning of this week’s parasha, that these are the journeys of the Children of Israel who went to the Land of Israel,” right?
Nope. It says “these are the journeys of the Children of Israel who went out of the Land of Egypt.”
This isn't your usual kind of masa, your usual journey. This is a journey defined by the point of origin. Not the destination.

I was thinking a lot about this concept of journeys this last few weeks.

Now, for all intents and purposes, I am an American Jew. True, an American-Israeli-British Jew with an accent that isn't precisely ‘New Jersey.’ 

But I’m here, and this is my home. I love New Jersey. 
Fortunately, I love diners and I don’t see the need to pump my own gas. So that’s worked out quite nicely for me.

And like a quarter of Jews alive in the world today, I now live in a country other than the one in which I was born. My journey was – and is – defined by my origins.

Not by my destination.

My identity is mixed, and complicated, and somewhat messy. Which is why this concept of the origins of journeys in the parasha means so much to me.

There was a PBS show on recently about American-Jewish identity and the journeys we make. And in the episode that I watched was a fascinating quote by Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Los Angeles.

His grandfather, he said, came to synagogue because he was Jewish. His grandchildren go to synagogue because they want to become Jewish.

We've become about the journey. About becoming.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. When I traveled around the world for the Joint I would frequently meet young people who were just now discovering their Jewish identity. Just now discovering what it means to be Jewish.

Once, in a far-off post-Soviet country, I was watching a young woman participate in an educational shabbat service. It was a teaching seminar, and there were hundreds of 'new' Jews. All halachic. All "Jewish" by any definition. But they didn't know what it meant to be Jewish and they wanted to learn. They wanted to 'become’ Jewish.

So … on the stage there were several educators from the local community. And one was doing the kiddush, one was doing the motzi. And this young woman was lighting the candles and explaining what she knew about them. And she was wearing a crucifix. The whole crucifix - not just the cross itself.

I was sitting in the front row looking at the big gleaming crucifix. And I leaned over to my colleague who was the netzig, the JDC Country Representative. "Nu?" I said.

"Give her time," he said. "She doesn't yet fully understand what it means to be Jewish."

He was right. It's a journey. We're all on this journey.

We’re all on a journey, like the masa of this week’s parasha, that’s defined by the starting-point.

We're all becoming Jewish.
Shabbat shalom.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Transitions .... Ok, what do I do with this stuff?

I'm clearing out my JDC memorabilia, collected artifacts and souvenirs, as I get ready for my new role as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
There are things I'm returning, things I'm keeping ... and a few things I'm figuring out what do with them. 
For example ...

1. I have a pile of Uzbek sum, the national currency of Uzbekistan. Not quite as useless as my unique collection of Hundred-Trillion Dollar notes from Zimbabwe, but close.1

2. ‎My collection of Continental Airlines luggage tags and weird airline freebies from lots of business trips.2

3. A large bottle of horseradish vodka from Ukraine.3 

4. Several packs of JDC playing cards, mezuzot from kids-at-risk in "Better Together" programs, and bookmarks and artwork from at-risk JDC clients.1

5. A collection of Cuban bubble gum cards depicting the revolution.1

6. "Easy Magyar" translation flash cards.2

1. I'm keeping them. 
2. They're all in the trash.
3. just kidding. I know what I'm going to do with this. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Transitions - stuff I'm taking (2)

Four more things I'm taking with me when I leave the Joint. Apart from the whole existential feeling of having helped save the world, etc. The third one,especially, seemed resonant today.

1. A coto (supermarket) card from Argentina. When I came to the Joint from the LA Federation all we talked about were food packages. The packages were critical and life-saving. But the maximum number of items we could give you in a package was 18. And it was really basic stuff, for the most part: oil, pasta, kasha, that kind of thing. Not luxuries. So the smart card system came into being ... in Argentina.

We were facing a situation in the winter of 2001-2002 in which tens of thousands of Argentinian Jews were suddenly thrust into poverty and dependent on the Joint for food. Many were the 'new poor' – men and women lining up for food packages at Jewish institutions. People who sometimes didn't "know" what it meant to be poor. 36,000 clients receiving food from the Joint. Because of our Jewish federations and donors.

We were receiving reports of anti-Semitic attacks, of Jews being beaten up and attacked for their packages. It turned out that these reports weren't true. But they taught us something very interesting. That the food packages carry a price - and not just a logistic price; a price for overhead and our shipping and handling. They taught us that there's a price for dignity and self-respect.

These "new Poor" Jews didn't like that price. To line up and ask for food can take away your self-respect. Which is why rumors – false rumors – were spread about anti-Semitic attacks, because so many people there hated the food package system. So the food card system - the 'coto' card - began. And as it spread, you could see amazing side effects .... people had more choice, more dignity
These cards aren't about food. They're about hope. 

2. An award from the Growing Hearts of Africa. Because three young woman can save lives and change the world .... and it's been a pleasure and privilege to partner with them.

3. A Chibuki - huggy puppy - trauma therapy doll. Ok, three. Because  you can't get a six-year old kid in Sderot to explain his or her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But you can give these kids a huggy puppy with awesome velcro arms, and the kids can talk to the dolls, and teach them a marching song to get to the bomb shelter fast ... and get stronger. And this is more necessary now than we should have hoped.

4. A copy of "Ayalet Metayelet" - which is a classic children's book I bought for my kids some years ago. But I keep it now because I see it all the time when I go to PACT (Parents and Children Together) kindergartens in Israel. The difference is ... my kids have hundreds of books. And for some of the Ethiopian-Israeli kids I've visited this is one of the only books they'll have at home. If you come from a family where your parents are illiterate, in Hebrew and Amharic, then you'll never have enough books at home. You'll have a harder time starting first grade than other kids. You'll stand a worse chance of getting through school reading and writing at a grade-appropriate level. So the book reminds me of what the challenge is, and how much we've achieved with this program.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Transitions - stuff I've learned

A colleague asked me the other day "what did you learn at the Joint?"

I had to think about this. There were some intensely personal things about the kind of Jewish communal professional I've become, about my learning and development. And about the incredible opportunities I've had these past nine years to see the Jewish world and meet amazing leaders.

I'll get to that side at a later date. But I also learned some pretty amazing things about the Jewish world, leadership, and about how Jewish communities develop. 

1. We're a migratory people. One quarter of us live in a country other than the one in which we were born. Think about that when we talk about the Jewish world, our horizons and our challenges.

2. We've consolidated into a small number of cities. So we have increasing economies of scale. Not always a bad thing. But there are awful challenges when it comes to welfare and peripheries.
4. Leadership is the key factor. And vision underpins leadership.

5. ‎You can't draw a radius around being Jewish. If you start restricting yourself to one program, one building, one small geographic area ... you'll never feel connected to the passion and vision of what we have. In Ukraine, in Israel ... doesn't matter where. We don't draw borders around caring.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Transitions - stuff I'm taking

I'm clearing out my desk and shelves from the collected memorabilia of nine years in the Joint. And there's a growing pile of things I'm taking with me:

1. My cigar-box covers from Cuba. So the story is ... you can't really "buy" empty cigar boxes in Cuba anymore, because the government is afraid of counterfeiters getting good boxes and putting bad cigars in them. But the artwork is beautiful. And having staffed over 20 missions to Cuba I picked up some lovely art; the cigar-box covers are my favorites. Incidentally, did you know why some cigars have the names of famous works of literature? Because cigar-rollers were illiterate, and they would have the news, stories - and great books - read to them at times. Hence "Romeo and Juliet" and [The Count of] "Montecristo."

2. My Kassam rose. Created by a terrific Israeli artist, Yaron Bob, who was helped by JDC to set up his business. Yaron turns the pieces of kassam rockets that fall onto Sderot into beautiful metal rose sculptures. It is literally turning the worst things you can imagine into works of art and beauty.

3. A bottle of "Red Moscow" (Kraznaya Moskva) Perfume.  I kept going into the homes of elderly women in former Soviet republics and smelling the same spicy floral fragrance. After a while I figured out what it was, and then I learned that pretty much everyone smells that way because that was pretty much the only perfume you could buy for much of the Soviet era. So everyone's mom, grandma, neighbor, smelled like Red Moscow. 
And because the alcohol content is so high ... well ... we'll leave that story for another blog post.

4. A nametag from a JDC educational conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. There were 1000 participants at this conference - a local Limmud - and JDC was helping to put it together. The conference was in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Lithuanian, with a massive array of subjects. Israeli history, Lithuanian Jewish history, Jewish gastronomy, culture, the weekly parasha, public speaking, fundraising, you name it. It was an amazing experience, and a privilege to see the rebirth of Jewish life in Vilnius. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Code Red

I'm so proud of my colleagues in Israel. Having seen this song (you can check it out here) and its amazing impact I know that JDC-Israel is doing an incredible job to help kids facing rocket attacks. 
If you're a supporter of our work, directly to the Joint or through your federation, you should see what amazing things you're supporting ...

Rocket alert song in Israel goes viral

Song developed by Joint Distribution Committee in 2008 for children of Sderot proves as relevant as ever in wake of barrage of Hamas rockets.

By Haaretz
| Jul. 11, 2014 | 2:38 PM
The recent barrage of rockets fired by Hamas at Israel has revived the fortunes of a video developed in 2008 as part of a trauma intervention effort in Sderot by the Joint Distribution Committee.

"The Code Red (Tzeva Adom) Song," named for the code word for rocket attacks in Israel, is going viral on YouTube, with over 43,000 hits as of Friday morning for the version that was uploaded in 2012.

"Four years ago a kindergarten teacher wanted to do something to help the children in her class deal with the ongoing air raid sirens and rocket attacks against Israel," reads the text accompanying the vehicle.

According to the JDC, its Ashalim division came up with the song as part of a series of therapies it developed in the wake of studies conducted in the Sderot region indicating that 90% of children between the ages of 4-18 living in the region were showing signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

"The song combines lyrics that allow the children to express their anxiety and fear with hand and body movements that help distract their minds to something more positive," stated the JDC on its JDC Ambassadors blog. The project is a partnership between the JDC, the Israeli government and the UJA Federation of New York.

Sderot teacher and art therapist Shachar Bar is credited for composing the song.

 The Lyrics read:

Color Red, Color Red
Hurry, hurry, hurry, to a safe area
Hurry, Hurry cause now it’s a bit dangerous
My heart is beating, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom
My body is shaking, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom
But I am overcoming
Cause I am a little different
Falling down – Boom
We may now stand up
Our body we shake, shake shake, shake, shake
Our legs we loosen, loosen, loosen, loosen, loosen
Breathe deep, breathe out far
Breathe deep, we can laugh
It's all gone and I feel good it's over – Yesssss! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Do you even leave the shelter?

I was privileged to listen in to an Israel Crisis update with some of my colleagues. Once again we’re in a crisis mode, and once again the question is how do we help those who need us most. 

My colleague Yossi Tamir, Director-General of JDC-Israel, pointed out that this time, it’s different:

First, the residents of Southern Israel are under attack again … but they can’t send their kids north like last time, because Tel Aviv is also under attack. 

Second, we’ve learned from experience what works and what doesn’t, how to run programs with a wider nonprofit and government partnership, running emergency preparedness meetings with our colleagues in the Jewish Agency and the Government. The programs we’ve been running on an ongoing basis have set the foundation for today.

And finally, Hamas has also learned from the past and has greater capabilities. 4 million Israelis are under fire, and not just in the South.

My colleague Sigal Shelach made the point that the elderly and the disabled are the most vulnerable. If you have 30 seconds to reach shelter, or 15 seconds in Sderot, what happens if you’re handicapped or you're elderly? To leave the house is out of the question. Do you even leave the shelter? Meals on wheels, emergency programs, Community Caseworkers.We're going to need all these and more to provide aid for elderly and disabled Israelis.

All the overnight and most of the day camps are cancelled. So what do you do with kids stuck at home? You have scared, stressed, rockets, parents need to go to work. We’ve learned about the benefits of makeshift camps in emergency shelters – we provide huge activity kit-boxes, volunteers to operate the camps, the incredible Chibuki program

The coordinator of Better Together in Kiryat Malachi noted the stress of taking children to safety, especially during the night hours. When the siren goes off, she and her husband have only 35 seconds to get their three small children to safety! The helplessness she feels when deciding in a split-second which child to wake first, is even worse when she thinks of all the families going through the same thing. In Kiryat Malachi, 30% of families are raised by single mothers! Moms who have no assistance when the siren sounds. The feeling of vulnerability in these communities runs strong.

We're grateful for those federations and donors who are standing up and helping us help the most vulnerable. Those who need us now more than ever.

We're grateful for our amazing colleagues on the ground - some of them taking real risks to help the vulnerable, while worrying for their own children and families.

And my colleague Alan Gill, JDC’s CEO, pointed out that the reason we were able to mobilize so quickly this week in Israel was that we were there yesterday. And we’ve been there for a hundred years. And if you’re supporting our work through your federation or directly, then know how grateful we, and the people of Israel, are for you, too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

We don't pump our own gas

Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to be transitioning out of JDC and into my new position as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, NJ.

I'm going to spend some time meeting with individuals, leaders and agencies in our community.

If you're in this community - reach out to me. I'm on twitter, linkedin, facebook, you can email me ... it's actually kinda difficult to avoid me. But I'd love to hear from you. Specifically, tell me:

* what you think I should focus on in my first year (what are the community's priorities, the key things we do, the things that inspire you)?

* what you think I should leave well alone (what should I not do), and

* what you think is the big vision we should aspire to in our community and our federation? What is the big hairy audacious goal?

And if you don't live here*, but you still have an opinion on the above, feel free to reach out too.

*You should. It's great here - we don't pump our own gas, we're the diner capital of the world, and we're not called the Garden State for nothing.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


I think this applies to pretty much everyone who's gone on a Cuba mission - avoiding the 'old cars' photo cliche.

But it really made me laugh.

NPR has a great photo-essay and story on cars in Cuba. If you've gone, you'll enjoy this article.

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Thursday, July 3, 2014


My colleagues at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel have put out their 2014 "Picture of the Nation." It contains some fascinating reports on Israel's progress and challenges.

For example ... achievement in core curriculum subjects has improved in recent years. But the achievements of Israeli children are still at the bottom of the developed world, while educational gaps are the highest.

In Israel's increasingly segmented educational framework, there's a large - and growing - share of children receiving what can only be described as a developing-world education.

There are large gaps between Hebrew-speaking kids and Arabic-speaking kids.
So the fact that Arab-Israeli kids are showing the biggest gains is a big achievement. But the gaps are still large.

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Monday, June 30, 2014


I'm proud and excited to have been selected to be the next Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, NJ.

I've lived in this community for seven years now. And for the past six years, I've watched my kids grow up in a thriving, vibrant, dynamic Jewish community. It's a community with strong connections to Israel and the Jewish world. And it's a community with an amazing history - and future - of taking care of the vulnerable, and showing leadership and Jewish values.

I'm proud to be part of it, and honored to be selected as the next Federation Exec.

Over the coming weeks I'm going to transition out of JDC. It was a difficult decision - I've loved the Joint, I've loved working for the Joint, and I've loved every single day of my "job." Now that it's coming to a close, I can say openly that I'm grateful that they paid me for something that I would have done for free.*

Thank you to all of you who have reached out with kind words of support. Keep reading my blog for transition thoughts, experiences ... and please reach out with your comments and suggestions.

I feel incredibly fortunate, and honored, to move to this next stage.


*But, you know, good that they did. Kids, food, mortgage, etc. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Step by Step

There was a fascinating report the other day on NPR from Cuba. The reporter looked at entrepeneurs in Cuba, their successes and challenges.

If you've been on a mission with us to Cuba, you'll have seen some of these developments.
Cuba today is undergoing some fascinating changes. Private businesses have increased dramatically ... but there are still significant restrictions and limitations on their activities.20% of the workforce is now in the private sector. But not everything happens at a linear rate.

You can read the background to the story here and you can listen to the report here

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Not the competition we want to win (again)

My colleagues at JDC's macroeconomic research institute, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, are doing some fascinating research on how Israel's society and economy look.

One graph in particular fascinated me. Even after you exclude Arab-Israelis and the Ultra-Orthodox, poverty rates in Israel are still among the highest in the developed world. Almost a quarter of Israelis live under the poverty line.

In fact ... compared to all the other developed countries there's only one that beats Israel. The US.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

The depth of commitment

I was glad to be in Rhode Island the other day with my colleague, JDC's CEO Alan Gill, for their Annual Board meeting. The "Jewish Voice" published a nice piece on our visit ....

Alliance annual meeting recognizes progress, honors JDC partnership

By Fran Ostendorf   
Thursday, 19 June 2014 18:36

Sharon Gaines welcomed the crowd June 16 to the third annual meeting of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island by taking a moment to recognize the plight of the three kidnapped teenagers in Israel. At the entrance to the Dwares JCC Social Hall was a table with iPads so that the audience could sign a virtual message to the families of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). “We hope this will offer some comfort that we are supporting these efforts,” Gaines said.
As a prelude to the annual awards presentation, members of Pastrami on RI blended their voices for “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Hatikvah” as well as “Bilvavi.”  Pastrami on RI, a post-collegiate coed Jewish a capella group, is a (401)j cluster that performs locally.
Awards presented      
The Jenny Klein Memorial Teacher Award, established by the Alperin-Hirsch Family Foundation to recognize outstanding teachers who have excelled in teaching and demonstrated a commitment to Jewish education in a synagogue religious school was presented to Nitza Attali. Attali, who teaches second-, third-, fifth- and sixth-grade students at Temple Beth-El in Providence, transmits her love of her homeland of Israel to her students. “In Israel, our national treasure is our children. Keep on loving our nation,” she said.
The Riesman Leadership Development Award, created by Robert and Marcia Reisman to inspire and encourage emerging leadership, is awarded to individuals who have demonstrated leadership and commitment through significant service with the Alliance. Recipients attend the General Assembly of the JFNA. Rabbi Barry Dolinger, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom, is this year’s recipient. A member of the board of directors of the Alliance, he served as lead educator for the New England Region of the March of the Living and is a founding member of (401)j. “Outside of your congregation,” presenter Doris Feinberg said, “you have embraced our community. You are already on a path that will cement your leadership in our community.”
Dolinger had particularly kind words for the Rhode Island community where, he said, “Everyone gets along and cooperates … more than anywhere.”
The Norma D. & Flo Tilles Community Relations Council Award was established to stimulate and encourage leaders and emerging leaders who have performed significant service to the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Alliance. Sharon Gaines, a previous recipient, presented this award to Richard Glucksman, chair of the Government Relations Council of the CRC and a senior staff attorney at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. As the Government Relations Council chair, Glucksman reaches out to government officials at the federal, state and local levels to raise awareness of Alliance priorities and goals.
Glucksman thanked his high school teacher for inspiring him and his mentors at the CRC for providing an unparalleled model of service.
The final award of the evening, the Joseph W. Ress Community Service Award, recognized an individual who has demonstrated exemplary leadership at the Alliance, local or national Jewish agencies and the general Rhode Island community. Joan Ress Reeves presented the award to Alan Litwin, whom she deemed “a regular Joe Ress Junior,” referring to her father, after whom the award was named. As she listed Litwin’s many contributions to the community at large, she mentioned the similarities to her father’s activities.
Litwin, managing partner of Kahn, Litwin, Renza & Co. Ltd., has served on the boards of the Jewish Seniors Agency, Jewish Home Corp., Jewish Family Service, Brown RISD Hillel, Temple Emanu-El, Miriam Hospital and The Miriam Hospital Foundation. He is a past president of the JCC and served on the board of the Alliance.
In accepting the award, Litwin said, “It’s such an honor to be named in the same sentence as Joe Ress, let alone get this award.” He said that the real reward is to be able to instill the same values of service in his children.
Alliance report
Jeffrey Savit, president and CEO of the Alliance, offered an encouraging report of growth and renewal at the Alliance, highlighting several initiatives underway.
“I hope, a year from now, we’ll be sitting in our renovated social hall,” he said, referring to the ongoing renovations to the Dwares JCC. He said that fundraising has resulted in more than $2 million so far, and that the result will be a “lovely inclusive user-friendly community center.”
Savit also told the meeting about the Living on the Edge Initiative, explaining that almost one-half of our community is living on the edge of financial insecurity. “We are committed to helping those in need in our community, “he said.
Fundraising has reached $1.4 million of the initial goal of $1.8 million for this initiative. “We are beginning to raise an army of people to help,” he said.
Commitment to community was the theme of the evening as the meeting celebrated the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s 100 years of service and its impact around the world.
“It’s wonderful to share in this anniversary with Alan Gill and Dov Ben-Shimon,” Savit said. “For 100 years, there’s been one worldwide address for Jews in need. We cherish our relationship.”
“I’ve seen the depth of commitment you have in this community,” the JDC’s Ben-Shimon responded. “I’m proud of the partnership we have.”
In an earlier conversation, Ben-Shimon said that he and Gill value the deep and meaningful tie that the JDC has with the Jewish community of Rhode Island. “We see the impact that Jewish philanthropy has around the world.”
Gill, CEO of the JDC, and Ben-Shimon, executive director-Strategic Partnerships, are well-known to members of the Rhode Island Jewish community, where support has been high for the work of the JDC around the world. Ben-Shimon has accompanied many Rhode Islanders on missions around the world.
From the JDC
Gill delivered a brief history of the JDC, from its beginnings in 1914, and a “brief snapshot of the Jewish world through the JDC lens. “Here we sit as brother and sister. We, as a Jewish people, will be there to help. The 100th anniversary is a time to consider where every dollar you give us is spent,” he said.
He explained that the JDC’s mission hasn’t changed though the years.
He stressed that all Jews are responsible for one another. “We are the only Jewish organization that holds itself accountable.” The JDC is active throughout the world – in Russia, in Hungary and Ukraine, in Greece, in Germany, and in Israel and in many other countries. Wherever there are Jews who need food, medicine, financial help or help staying safe, the JDC is there.
Israel is one example. Gill said that 36.5 percent of Israeli children are living below the poverty line. “We’re fighting poverty. We can’t afford a social fabric that’s frayed.”
Ukraine is another example. Gill mentioned the work that the JDC is doing there to make sure that Ukraine’s Jewish population, which numbers more than 300,000, is getting the help it needs.
“I talk about the history to remind us of what happens when we stay focused on our mission,” Gill said. “Our mission is our business plan.”
His compelling stories of housebound elderly in communities under stress, worldwide, held the attention of the crowd. They were meant to illustrate the work done by the JDC, said Gill, so “am Israel chai” … the Jewish people shall live.
Following Gill’s speech, Edward Feldstein installed the newly elected boards of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, the Federation Foundation and the Alliance Realty.
Gaines ended the evening with remarks echoing those of Savit. “Change is never easy,” she said. But, showing what Feldstein had termed her positive outlook, she said, “We will continue to move forward.” She cited the Living on the Edge Initiative as a defining moment and said that the Alliance is positioning itself for a great future.

FRAN OSTENDORF is the Editor of The Jewish Voice.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The huge shoes

I was grateful to be interviewed in last week's New Jersey Jewish News on the tasks and horizons ahead.

‘We don’t draw borders around caring’
Questions for Dov Ben-Shimon

As a resident of Fanwood and as the next top professional of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, succeeding 19-year veteran Max Kleinman, Dov Ben-Shimon says he understands the successes he’ll inherit and the challenges that are ahead. 

“I am fully aware of the huge shoes I am expected to fulfill, the incredible achievement Max has had, and I am humbled by the opportunity,” he said June 9. “I am also aware of the achievement of the professional staff and how hard they work every day to make this community even more successful. Finally, I am looking forward to the deep cooperation and partnership with our partner agencies and other institutions in our community.”

Ben-Shimon said there are three areas he’ll be particularly focused on between now and when he assumes the post in the fall: outreach to the unaffiliated, expanding the donor base, and deepening the Jewish values with which professionals and lay leaders approach their work and voluntarism.

He spoke about these and other priorities with NJJN editor-in-chief Andrew Silow-Carroll; below is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation. 

NJJN: As a resident here for seven years, what have you learned about the community and especially about what had been, before the merger of the MetroWest and Central NJ federations, the historic Central territory? 
Ben-Shimon: I’ve been blessed to have raised my children in this community. I told the search committee that there were two reasons I wanted the job, and their names are Eitan and Yael, our six-year-old twins. I wanted my children to grow up Jewishly in this community, with a strong, thriving and healthy Jewish community that understands the value of leadership and service.
And being an active member of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford and of the Scotch Plains JCC, I’ve gotten to see to see the dynamism of Jewish life here. 

NJJN: From what you know or have experienced of the merger, how do you think it is going?
Ben-Shimon: I am aware of some of the concerns and grateful that many of the leaders of Central have reached out to me and shared their hopes and aspirations. I am aware that there have been incredible successes in this merger and still much left to do. It’s no easy task, but with a merger between two highly prominent and visible federations with two different cultures, there are always going to be challenges that we cannot meet overnight. But with good will and hard work we can continue the successes of the merger and rise to meet the challenges that are ahead. 

NJJN: It’s no secret that most federations are struggling to attract younger donors and to keep the campaign growing in the face of competition from other charities, Jewish and non-Jewish. How do you plan to grow the campaign?
Ben-Shimon: The competition we face is not with other Jewish organizations. I’ve been a professional fund-raiser for Jewish organizations for 17 years, and I have never felt that Jewish organizations are in competition with each other. If you give to one or two or three, you will understandably give to a fourth. Once on the path you’ll understand it. When someone is already highly identified and in love with the Jewish world, the conversation is easy for us.
The byword is collaboration. The challenge of the federations, and the JCCs, and the synagogues, and the organizations is to bring in the unaffiliated.

NJJN: So how do you do that, especially when some are more interested in so-called “boutique” giving as opposed to umbrella giving?
Ben-Shimon: Two steps. A lot of my colleagues in professional and lay leadership are expressing a desire to help make the federation more efficient in its fund-raising efforts. That means making sure we are speaking in a coordinated voice, that we improve our databases, our messaging, and our branding.
The other level is in helping constituencies — donors, supporters, and lay leaders — fall in love with us again. It is not an enticing prospect when a federation comes to you once a year and just asks for money. We need to rethink how the federation and the agencies dialogue with the community as a whole. How do we reach out and share the successes and achievements and horizons with as many members of the Jewish community as we can? 

NJJN: I heard that you “love” fund-raising. Why?
Ben-Shimon: It allows me to see people’s deepest hope and love and reminds me that Jewish philanthropy is all about our donors and leadership and not so much about our organizations. It’s an incredible z’chut [privilege] to work in Jewish communal service and see the Jewish path that our donors and leaders are taking, and to help escort them along that path. Fund-raising is one aspect of that journey. 

NJJN: Your recent background is with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which has an international focus. Are you prepared for the domestic challenges of raising money for local needs, like schools, family service, and the elderly? What do you see as the right balance of the domestic, Israel, and international?
Ben-Shimon: I don’t believe in drawing a radius around the Jewish community and saying, “This is all we have.” Once we start setting up strict funding barriers between local, national, international, and Israel causes, we are cheapening the value of what a Jewish community can aspire to. For me, the dialogue we have to have has to be wider and more reflective of the values we have as Jews. We don’t draw borders around caring in the Jewish world. We have much wider horizons. We won’t be able to help Israel and the world if we don’t have a strong Jewish community at home. On the other hand, if we don’t have a strong Israel and strong connections to a diverse Jewish world that makes us proud, we won’t have the values that make us a strong Jewish community at home.
We live in one of the most Zionist communities in North America, and I think one of the reasons is because we are a very wide-horizoned people. We look at the world in a very sophisticated manner. We have deep ties to Israel and are not constrained with a small-scale view of who we are as Jews in New Jersey.