THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore works to preserve and enhance Jewish life.

It addresses charitable, educational, religious, humanitarian, health, cultural and social service needs of the Jewish community locally, nationally, in Israel and throughout the world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Few Other Blogs Worth Checking Out

The past few weeks have been incredibly busy in the Jewish world.  From the highs of birthright israel trips to the devastation in Haiti, there has been a lot written on the internet.  Today, I'm happy to share two blogs with you:
From Goucher Hillel, there is the Amazing Israel Bus 35 blog, which has highlights from the groups trip to Israel and lots of students' writings.
JDC's Global Humanitarian Assistance program has been in Haiti for the past two weeks and providing frequent updates.
Finally, and this is not a blog, we have a video highlighting the Baltimore birthright Israel day in Ashkelon.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jewish Renewal Update from Odessa

One of the great accomplishments of the North American Jewish community in the past 20 years has been the revitalization of Jewish life throughout the former Soviet Union.  In places where Jews couldn't acknowledge their religion for decades, their children are no openly celebrating their roots and building a vibrant Jewish future, in no small part thanks to the amazing work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Over the past fifteen years, we in Baltimore have focused our efforts in Odessa, Ukraine.  As we plan the future of our relationship with the Odessa Jewish community, we look forward to an even more engaging relationship that will connect our young leadership with theirs in addressing what are the needs to keep Jewish life fresh and relevant for young Jews around the world.

Young Jewish Leadership Project in Odessa – Second Year, Module 3

December 1-4, 2009 marked the finale of the Young Jewish Leadership project in 2009. Some nine graduates – young and promising potential leaders of the community – had a chance to present their projects that they had based on the 3 weeks’ course of theoretical knowledge at the seminars, their visits to the communal organizations, their personal experience and, also – their own vision of what the community would like to have at its disposal.

A fourth-generation Odessan – Zhenya Popova – was among the graduates of the projects and she found it extremely interesting and enriching. “Our teachers were great, our communication with peers was very useful and mutually educational. I wish the project could last more and involve a greater number of Jewish youngsters”, Zhenya mentions.

On the final day of the Program, Zhenya presented her future project called “At Grandma and Granddaughter’s”, aimed at bringing together the younger and older generations. Other projects were “International Jewish Matchmaking”, “Records Studio”, “Odessa Quest”, “Jewish Home Travel”, etc. Each project was unique and different from the others, but, as Dima Zitser, one of the core trainers noted, “The main feature is that the projects are focused on the community members of different ages and are supposed to meet the various needs of the community. These projects have already been amended based on the visits of the participants to the city organizations. Also, one of the requirements for the future projects was not to involve huge investments. The task now is for the young people to try and launch their initiatives.”

Following the two previous modules, the final module enhanced the aims of the Project and provided the in-depth view of such crucial issues as leadership skills, project creation and management, conflict solving, communicative skills, group-building and community research.  The young leaders had a chance to widen their knowledge about each others challenges, views on community development and plans for its future perfection, ideas on projects that may become successful in the Jewish community, etc. Warm cooperative atmosphere was reached through various interactive means of team-work and self-presentations.

During the year of 2010 the graduates of the Project and other Odessa youngsters are envisioned to become part of Ukraine's Metsudah Young Jewish Leadership program. This way, the Odessans will become part of the large-scale, Ukraine-wide, training initiative enabling them to reach wider and deeper levels of leadership training.

Chanukah Celebrations

On December 15th, Grand Odessa philharmonic hall welcomed Hesed Shaarey Tzion of Odessa clients for a festive celebration of the holiday of light and warmth – Chanukah. Despite terrible weather conditions – heavy snowstorm and ice everywhere on the streets, everyone came to enjoy the concert, absorb joy, light and hope.

Before the beginning of the concert the Director of Hesed Shaarey Tzion gave a speech, in which he welcomed everyone, wished them happy Chanukah and added that taking into consideration the number of people, who despite bad weather still wanted and managed to come, Hesed was able to make a difference in their lives and that difference was definitely positive. He wished everyone lots of happiness, peace, health and luck.

Afterwards, a varied concert program started. It included different kinds of musical pieces, prepared by Hesed Shaarey Tzion Club and Day Center especially for Chanukah celebration. There were a couple of invited guests – the winner of numerous international and national contests “Kantilena” choir; a talented trio, made up of three instruments – piano, violin and clarinet; a gifted student of Odessa specialized Stolyarsky music school Veronica Sherman-Sazonova, who performed two songs “The Holiday of Chanukah” and “Alleluia”; a composer Sergey Kalmanovsky, who came from Germany and performed a couple of fragments from his musical “Odessa-mama”, accompanying himself on the piano; a “Carmen” trio, comprising of three ladies, two of whom played the guitars and the third one sang brilliant songs “Simu Shemen” and a thrilling Spanish-Jewish Chanukah song with castanets.

Besides many vocal and musical concert performances there were several great dancing pieces as well. The youngest performers of the day – a dancing ensemble of Odessa’s Migdal JCC – showed a dance “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and left a truly unforgettable impression with the audience.

There was also a “monologue of an old Odessan” performed by an honored actor of Ukraine Mikhail Bokalchuk, and it received a standing ovation for it. The final touch and highlight of the performance was surely a masterfully performed “Tumbalalayka”, during which all the spectators sang along.

“A brilliantly organized event and a fantastic holiday. The atmosphere was so warm here and I simply couldn’t stop smiling and feeling light-hearted. Chanukah’s the holiday of light and this concert today was filled with so many bright colors, so much light that it is hard to imagine, what else could fit this holiday we celebrate. Truly amazing!” – related one of Hesed Shaarey Tzion clients, who came to enjoy the concert.

Beit Grand Concert

On December 21st and 22nd a solo concert of a famous actor Oleg Emtsev in commemoration of Marcel Morso took place in Beit Grand Jewish Cultural Center of Odessa. The program included mimic, comic, eccentric miniatures, which aroused huge fits of laughter from the audience.

The program staged in Beit Grand included cheerful, bright miniatures that give Oleg a chance to improvise a lot. The audience’s vivid reaction only proved how successful this actor is. He received standing ovation and every single person cheered, laughed and smiled all through the performance. “It was an amazing evening. A performance never to be forgotten. I hope he’ll come back to Odessa soon and will perform in Beit Grand again. It is such a perfect place and stage for him – the atmosphere is so warm, homey and pleasant here that I hardly imagine enjoying this concert anywhere else” – related Tatyana, one of Beit Grand’s frequent visitors.  

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stories from the Road: Towson/Goucher Birthright- A Night in the Desert

The other night, the group stayed at the Bedouin tent in the Negev Desert. If you have never spent a night in the desert or anywhere away from the light pollution of the cities and suburbs that most of us live in, it is an amazing thing. You are surrounding by all darkness with the exception of the moon and the stars in the sky. It is a place both for quiet introspection and to reach out for community. Our students were there experiencing Bedouin culture and hospitality, riding camels and donkeys, sleeping in open tents, and having conversations on spirituality. If you have not heard from your students in a few days, it is most probably because of the facts that while the desert is known for its beauty, it is not known for its cell phone reception.

But before arriving at the Bedouin tent, the students had a packed day. After waking in a kibbutz at 3:30 in the morning, they drove to Mount Massada and climbed it in time for sunrise. Massada is a place of many stories that are historic to the land and people of Israel, but it is also both picturesque and a testimony to the engineering skills of the Romans. Following Massada, the group went to a beach at the dead sea. The dead sea is one of the most amazing places on Earth, you walk into the water and are able to float. It is the lowest point on the planet and unfortunately, it is sinking. 

Yesterday the group traveled to Ashkelon, Baltimore's sister city. They explored the community, volunteered, and learned about the partnerships that currently exist. Following Ashkelon, they began their travel up north. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stories from the Road: UMBC/Hopkins Birthright- Shalom from Ashkelon!

As mentioned before, our Baltimore area Hillels are in Israel on their birthright trips.  Today, all of the students from both buses joined together today in Ashkelon, our sister city.  They have been spending time with Ashkelonian soldiers as they've been connecting with Israel. 

Shalom from Ashkelon!

I'm sitting in the basement of the youth center in Ashkelon while our students use the restroom upstairs just before we board our bus back to Tel Aviv.

Yesterday morning we woke up early in the Negev and took a beautiful hike near Kibbutz Sde Boker that involved beautiful scenery--overlooks, waterfalls, and some serious climbing up steep rocks & cliffs, even ladders within rocks.

We headed from the Negev to Tel Aviv where we spend a couple of hours in the Nachalat Binyamin artists' market and around the very hip Shenkin Street.  We rested in the hotel and, after a short talk from a Taglit-Birthrigth Israel representative about supporting the program, had a longer conversation about our relationship with Israel.  In the evening after dinner we saw the Na La'ga'at players perform NOT BY BREAD ALONE.  They are the world's only blind-deaf theatre.

This morning we woke up early and headed to Ashkelon, Baltimore's sister city, where are soldiers gave us a tour around the city, showing us their high schools, neighborhoods, places they've worked, and places they hang out.  We walked around the marina and our tour educator spoke with us for a few minutes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Then we headed to Baltimore Park where we learned more about the partnership between our cities.  There we were joined by a second Baltimore bus (mostly Goucher and Towson students) and headed to volunteer opportunities in the community.  Half of our bus did some work on a sustainable farming teaching initiative and half did some work at a store that sells highly discounted clothing to needy youth.  We joined back together for a festive lunch here in the Youth Center before having a wrap-up conversation outside.

After ten days together our Baltimore students were so excited to see the home-town of their (not-so) new (anymore) friends and do some communtiy service work together.  Now we head to Tel Aviv for a trip to Rabin Square and to Independence Hall before a conluding dinner and trip to the airport!

Looking forward to seeing you all soon Stateside.

Rabbi Jason Klein
UMBC Hillel

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stories from the Road: UMBC/Hopkins Birthright- Days 5/6

Shalom from the Negev!

Yet again so much has happened in two days.

It is hard to believe that just yesterday we woke up early in Jerusalem and headed to Mount Herzl cemetery early in the morning.  Our soldiers—I believe I can now safely say friends—from Ashkelon were dressed again in military uniforms out of respect for the place.

We started by visiting Theodor Herzl’s grave—originally in Europe and moved to Jerusalem after the founding of the State—and learned about how Herzl’s early career inspired him to envision a Jewish state and how he convened the first Zionist Congress.  We walked from here to the graves of leaders of the State of Israel and gave particular attention to the grave of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who after serving in all of the other highest posts in the Israeli government and military, and worked very hard to bring about peace with the Palestinian people, was assassinated in 2005 by a radical rightist.  We walked by the graves and memorials of the paratrooper heroes who include Hannah Senesh and made our way into the military cemetery.  We visited the grave of Mike Levin who many Baltimoreans and Philadelphians know from school or from Camp Ramah in the Poconos,  Mike returned from camp to Israel when he found out his unit was being called up for the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and was killed in Lebanon.  Lior, our tour educator, also told us the stories of some of his best friends who died during their service as well.  We concluded our time at Mount Herzl with appreciation for the IDF soldiers with us.  We recited memorial prayers and a blessing for the IDF and chanted Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, together.  “Hatikvah” means “the hope,” and I’d like to think that not only is it about appreciating the Jewish homeland that is, but that this “hope” can also be about the Israel that can be—an Israel with love and respect among the Jewish people, and true peace and justice with Israel’s neighbors.

We left Jerusalem and headed to the area of Beit Shemesh, where we stopped for lunch.  The most popular food was actually a drink of sorts—CafĂ© Aroma’s “icecafe”—frothy and apparently fewer than 500 calories (not by much).  Some ate at Aroma; others preferred to scope out the burgers the kosher McDonalds and we had some pretty positive reviews.  We boarded the bus for a few more minutes to get to the Beit Guvrin area; we sampled “Krembo,” Israel’s cookie/marshmallow/chocolate treat that I believe holds a similar mythic place among Israeli children as Oreos do among American children (“How do *you* eat a Krembo/Oreo…”.)  We disembarked the bus and most of us went spelunking through an underground labyrinth of caves. 

Yours truly did this once three years ago on a Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip and decided that that was enough for a lifetime so I stayed outside with anyone else who might be claustrophobic too.  Brian was dubious at first because he did not have a flashlight but found one  at last minute.  Though our cave crawlers emerged a bit dirty, most of them were thrilled that they did it!

From the Beit Guvrin area we headed South for a couple of hours, through the City of Arad to Kfar Hanokdim, a Bedouin encampment designed for pilgrims like ourselves.  We put our bags into a big tent and  drank some tea that Aaron K. suggested tasted like boiled down Fruit Loops (everyone agreed with this backhanded compliment), and visited this beautiful chill-out tent space that Mike and I thought would be a really neat annex to UMBC’s other student life spaces.

There was a place to shop for clothing and crafts, and Danielle was excited to buy a necklace for herself after most of her previous shopping was for other loved ones.  By about 5:30 PM most of the group was riding camels into the sunset and then returning to the camp.  We were welcomed into a large tent as Khaled, a Bedouin from the Negev desert in Israel, described Bedouin culture with a particular focus on symbols and rituals around hospitality.  And then after some coffee roasting and drinking, the next phase of hospitality began as we ate what many people believe was the most delicious meal of the trip.

After dinner, we headed out into the darkness in two groups and had a conversation called “Spirituality: Wresting with God” in which students had a chance to be alone in the desert for a few minutes to reflect and then share with the group.  The stars looked incredible as well.  We returned to our tent where the Ashkelonians led some fun games including the “crab war”—appropriate for Baltimore I guess—during which people had to crawl on their back like crabs and get each other out.  Josh had a particular talent for this game but Dotan—the Ashkelonian soldier who proposed it—seemed to make a pretty good crab himself.

As the night continued people listened to music, sat around campfires, and generally just hung out before they went to bed, some later than others, in sleeping bags in thin mattresses on the tent floor.  It was a pretty warm night in the desert for January but as it became chillier luckily my co-staff and colleague from Hopkins Hillel—Rabbi Debbie Pine—figured out how to use the heater in the tent.

We were up by 5:40, eating breakfast just after 6—another delicious meal with the freshest of breads.  We boarded the bus and headed to Masada. 
Corinne and Sarah imagined that the hike up the mountain would be a lot longer than it was—the Roman ramp that we took only took about 20 minutes.
 But they also didn’t realize how intense the hike down on the snake path would be.  While we were on the top of Masada, two UMBC students who did not previously have Hebrew names received Hebrew names in a ceremony that
we did together as a group.   Lisa had a funny moment on top of Masada
when she noticed she had received a text message on her cell phone from a Jordanian cell phone company welcoming here to “roam” in Jordan; these signals seem to get mixed up near the borders.  We learned about Masada’s history 2000 years ago and Masada as a symbol in contemporary Israel before we headed down the mountain.  Now, nearly half a day later, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one whose knees are just beginning to
*really* feel it.  Lena was particularly gracious on the way down the mountain as she helped another participant whose fear of heights—perhaps fear of falling—made the walk down particularly challenging.

After some combination of OJ, ice cream, and Ahava products at the bottom of the mountain we boarded the bus and headed to the Ein Bokek beach at the Dead Sea.  Most of our students covered themselves with mud and the water was a little chilly in spite of the warm weather.

We headed from the Dead Sea south and stopped in Dimona, where our students took full advantage of 20 minutes in the local mall for bathrooms and food.  Nathan was determined to find chocolate “Bamba” (Bamba is peanut-flavored, giant cheese-puff-shaped Israeli snack food).  We found some funky version of it which our students snacked on.  Our guide mentioned that Dimona receives a lot of attention internationally because it is thought to be the center of Israel’s nuclear program (which Israel has never confirmed nor denied exists at all).

We arrived about a half hour later to our kibbutz hotel where students had a chance to relax before a little more exercise.  Our soldiers put on their uniforms once again to simulate boot camp and divided the bus into
three groups.   “Lior (our tour educator) told us to wear comfortable
clothes, “ said Evan, “not, ‘you’re going to be in the army.’”   Needless
to say, the fast 30 minutes I had photographing our students running around and doing push-up jumping exercises probably went by a bit slower for our participants.

After boot camp, a couple of dogs at the kibbutz seemed to take a liking to Aaron B. and two hours later I think one of them has still have not left his side.

The pool is open at the kibbutz for our students tonight and tomorrow morning we take a hike and then head to Tel Aviv.

Internet access is a little tough here, but I'm going to try to follow this up with an email from my gmail account with some pictures.


Rabbi Jason Klein
UMBC Hillel

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stories from the Road: Towson/Goucher Birthright Trip- The First Few Days

Woking with the local Hillels in Baltimore, we are excited to have two community campus buses for this winter's birthright israel trips.  Today's we start sharing stories from the Towson/Goucher bus, which also has some students from UMBC and Hopkins.  The students seeing for Israel for the first time are joined by a group of Israel soldiers from Ashkelon, our sister city, which will culminate in a day in Ashkelon.

Alison Levine, Towson Hillel's Director of Engagement is our guest correspondent.

Hello everyone!

Shalom from Israel!

As the students are having a GREAT time in the background behind me singing, cheering, and telling jokes behind me, I just wanted to let you know the first set of pictures have been uploaded!
Yesterday, we had a restful Shabbat with incredible weather - we were walking around in shorts and t-shirts. Last night, we went out to Ben Yehuda street one of the top night spots in Jerusalem.

Today, the serious part of the trip started. We woke early and went to Yad Vashem (hand and name) The Israeli Holocaust museum. Following their tour, they heard a Holocaust survivor speak to them. After lunch at the Machane Yehuda shuk (incredible food, smells, and shops), they went to Har Herzl (Mount Herzl). Har Herzl is the national cemetery of Israel, the place where Prime Ministers, soldiers, and national heroes are buried. The experience was made even more poignant because our group is traveling with 8 soldiers from Ashkelon, Baltimore's sister city.  The soldiers shared their own stories and memories of friends that they have lost.

Tonight, an Israeli film maker is joining us at the hotel, then tomorrow we head down south to Mount Massada and a Bedouin tent.

More to come in the next few days (depending on internet access in the next hotel!)


Stories from the Road: UMBC/Hopkins Birthright- Days 3/4 Shavua Tov from Jerusalem

Hi Everyone,

As the last hours of Shabbat move forward in the Eastern time zone, I wanted to report about the last couple of days here in Jerusalem.

In fact, as expected, President Shimon Peres spoke at the Mega Event on Thursday night; overwhelmingly our students enjoyed the music, the talks, and the dancing.

Friday morning we woke up and headed to Yad Vashem, Israel's central Holocaust memorial and heroism museum. Our friends from Ashkelon were dressed in their IDF uniforms out of respect for the place and we began our visit there with a talk from an octogenarian named Shaya who was from Szeged, Hungary, and told us his story and his family's story from childhood through the liberation at Teresenstadt and reflected on the ongoing trauma of what it means to be a survivor throughout his life in Europe, in New Orleans, and now in Israel. We were joined by a guide named Yiftach who took us through the new museum at Yad Vashem. We did not have as much time as would have been ideal, but students still seemed to find much of what they saw meaningful. We visited the children's memorial, the center of which is a single flame reflected by many mirrors, and concluded our visit with a short memorial ceremony.

This was certainly a day of transitions as we headed back into the City Center and visited Machaneh Yehuda market where students ate lunch, bought baked goods and other fun foods, and just explored this epicenter of Israeli life.

After 40 minutes to get ready for Shabbat back at the hotel we gave flowers to each student as we lit candles and our bus dropped us off in the Old City so we could visit the Western Wall Friday evening at the onset of Shabbat. The Western Wall, the kotel, is a special place for many Jews because of its close association with the Temple that once stood on Mount Moriah behind it, and it is a complicated, sometimes difficult place for many Jews because its ritual life is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox. There is no option for men and women to pray together in addition to the separate sections and women may barely raise their voices in prayer without fear of verbal or physical attack. Our students had a lot to say about the experience--from joyous to complicated, from moving to frustrating. We walked around the Old City to Jaffa Street and continued all the way down Jaffa Street to the new bridge at the entrance to the City which was really pretty to walk over as we returned to the hotel for Shabbat dinner. We finished the night with an oneg shabbat at which we had some tasty snacks and toasted l'chayim to a great trip so far.

In the morning, some students woke up for some service options in the hotel and the surrounding area and some slept in. At lunchtime we reconvened as we prepared to celebrate the Bat Mitzvahs of two participants from Hopkins. Three people read from the Torah including one of the women soldiers who had never read from the Torah before. It was special.

After the afternoon service, we headed out for a walk on the government hill near the hotel. We saw the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University, and walked by the Supreme Court, the National Bank of Israel, the State Department, and the Prime Minister's office. We sat next to the Knesset (Parliament) building and learned about Israel's government structure and then split into two groups to have conversation about Jews as special vs. Jews as normal--to what degree to we feel each and what does that mean.

After some duck, duck, goose in the park, we headed back to the hotel, had a snack, and had a Havdalah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat. We boarded our bus to the center of town and had time for shopping and dinner on Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem's most famous pedestrian mall, before spending some time at a local bar. As I write this to you we are back at the hotel. Some students are still hanging out while others have gone to bed to prepare for our 6 AM wake up call tomorrow when we visit Mt. Herzl and then head south . . . .

Shavua tov, a good week to all of you,

Rabbi Jason Klein
UMBC Hillel Director