Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’er and Naftali Fraenkel z”l (photo from mfa.gov.il)
On Monday, June 30, the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, who were kidnapped June 12, were found northwest of Hebron. The sad discovery was the result of an extensive search effort led by the Israel Defence Forces, the Israel Security Agency and the Israel Police. A joint funeral was held July 1. Jewish groups and others around the world join in mourning.
In Vancouver, there will be a community memorial service, coordinated by the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver and led by Rabbi Berger, Rabbi Moskovitz and Cantor Szenes-Strauss, on Thursday, July 3, at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver at 7:30 p.m.
As well, to share your thoughts and express your condolences to the families of the boys, visit the Jewish Federations of North America’s “Remember Our Boys” page.
Tom and Tzameret in studio. (photo by Galit Reismann)
An Israeli mother and daughter duo have combined to create designer pieces that use exclusively natural textile, with a focus on nature, and creations that become an extension of the wearer of any shape or size.
Tzameret, 50, and Tom, 28, began their business from home when Tom was at Israel’s Shenkar College of Design, in her second year of studies (2009). Tzameret, an art therapist by profession, was looking to do something different, and building this business with her daughter was the perfect fit.
The pair began the work little by little while Tom was finishing school. After Tom graduated with honors in 2011, with a bachelor of design, she and Tzameret invested all the time, energy and resources they could into their brand. For the past 18 months, they have been working out of a studio in Jaffa.
Tooshaaya is a design studio for eco-textile accessories with the driving concept of “body, home, soul.” For now, they create accessories like scarves, shawls and cardigans, but they plan to soon also design accessories for the home and soul.
“I’ve wanted to have my own business since I was a little girl,” said Tom.
During the summer between her second and third year at Shenkar, Tom said, “I wanted to make my own products, like scarves, and sell them. My mom was at a point when she wanted to take a small break from therapy.
“As always, I shared my prototype with my mom. We started talking about it and the idea to work together came up. I thought it was a great idea.
“Me and my mom are complete opposite in a lot of things. That can make us feel crazy sometimes, but it also makes us perfect business partners and designers. Also, we always know how much we love each other and that we want the best for each other.”
Tzameret has always loved art, creation and design. Also, she said, “I love Tom, believe in her, and appreciate her talent. Since she was four or five years old, it has been very clear she is gifted in art and has her own unique way of looking at things.
“We decided to join forces and talents, and create an exciting journey together. Although it’s not always simple to be a business partner with your daughter, it’s a huge privilege. I’m very proud.”
When Tom was in college, she “learned the textile industry is the second-most-polluted industry in the world.” She said, “As a textile designer, I see it as my responsibility to design and create ecological textile.” Tooshaaya’s motto is “Touched by nature.”
Tom and Tzameret chose to work only with natural materials, especially with new eco-fibres like bamboo and soy. “These fibres, in addition to the eco part, have special and very important qualities, like UV protection, hypoallergenic, temperature adjustments and [the] creation of amino acids, which is healthy for the skin,” explained Tom. “They’re good for the world and the body. Of course, we also believe in sustainability and love the energy of natural materials around our bodies.”
Tooshaaya designs are inspired by the sights, shapes, textures and colors of nature. “With each of our designs, even when there are few similar items, no one [item] is the same,” said Tom. “Each has its own unique design and process of production, which is mostly handmade.
“We believe that, when we feel comfortable, it’s easier to be connected to nature and express who we are.”
It has proved challenging to find natural materials, however. “Yarns are imported by us,” Tom said. “Also, producing natural materials is slower and more complicated than it is with synthetic or mixed yarns.
“Israel is a small and challenging market, in general, and particularly for niche designers,” she added. “We’re glad to have local [from Israel] and international loyal and return clientele who love our designs, appreciate our work and share our concepts.
“When I look at nature, I see infinite organic beauty composed of stability and softness, a tension between order and disorder, and the changes wrought by time, giving everything its unique character.
“My art and designs are a constant search for this organic esthetic. When I design an item, like a scarf, I create a second skin that looks organic and feels like a natural continuation of the body. The item’s unique character comes from the person who wears it, through movement and over time.”
Each item is made using special knitting techniques, with fine and delicate threads, hand dying, embroidering, weaving and felting. The items can be worn with a variety of clothing types and styles. Most are one-size-fits-all, suitable for sizes 36-44 (EU).
“Our ability to create custom-size orders, including plus sizes, is also somewhat unique,” said Tom. “Our items can fit almost anyone. And our ability to ship worldwide is very exciting. We send packages to all continents of the world, from the U.S. to Turkey, Russia, Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and Italy.
“We love our work. What is most satisfying is when customers tell us how much they enjoy wearing our items, and we can see how our ideas are reflected in reality and bring happiness to others.”
Reuven Rivlin votes in the presidential election in the Knesset. (photo by Ashernet)
On June 10, Israel’s 120-seat parliament chose longtime Likud member Reuven Rivlin as the country’s next president. He will succeed Shimon Peres, who retires next month at the age of 90.
Rivlin, who served two terms as speaker of the Knesset, has been a member of parliament for almost 20 years. He won on the second round of voting, beating out rival Knesset member Meir Sheetrit in that round. He said that he will serve the entire public.
“This [Likud] party was my home as I said it would be until I was legally obligated to leave it. Now, I am no longer a party man, I am no longer a faction man. I am everybody’s man. A man of the people,” Rivlin told the Knesset.
Mahapach-Taghir’s national coordinator Itamar Hamiel and Palestinian co-director Fidaa Nara Abu-Dbai at the organization’s last residents conference in Tel Aviv. (photo from Itamar Hamiel)
On June 10, Itamar Hamiel of Mahapach-Taghir will be in Vancouver to speak about his organization and new models of activism focused on the Israeli peripheria, the socioeconomic and geographic fringes of the country.
Sponsored by New Israel Fund of Canada (NIFC) and hosted by Temple Sholom Synagogue, the lecture is the latest in a series of NIFC events in the city. Mahapach-Taghir, a project that NIF supports, defines itself as a feminist, grassroots, Jewish-Arab organization that focuses on education and community development. Its origins are in the Israeli students’ tuition strike of 1998, with a group of students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Believing that social change must go beyond themselves and also include marginalized communities, they began volunteering in the Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem, eventually establishing an after-school education and mentoring program. This program grew into Mahapach-Taghir’s first “learning community,” which has been replicated in eight neighborhoods across Israel, and remains the organization’s core program.
In anticipation of his visit, the Independent spoke with Hamiel, who is Mahapach-Taghir’s national coordinator.
JI: What is the relationship between NIF and your organization?
IH: NIF has supported Mahapach-Taghir since our founding in 1998…. Our organization is sometimes hard to understand: we are a feminist, grassroots, Jewish-Arab organization that focuses on education and community activism. Because of this, sometimes it is hard for us to find funding from foundations that have more specific focus. NIF understands this complexity and supports us in it. Because we insist on Jewish-Palestinian partnership on all levels of our organization, some Jewish foundations aren’t interested in our work. They have a narrow view of what supporting Israel means, and NIF breaks that mold.
Around 14 percent of our funding from last year was from NIF, but our experience is that long-term support is more critical than the amount of funding, and NIF has provided that.
JI: How did you become involved in Mahapach-Taghir?
IH: I became involved in Mahapach-Taghir around 15 years ago, a few months after it was established, as a student volunteer in our community in Florentine (Tel Aviv). After the students in Jerusalem founded the organization in Katamonim, they decided to open communities around the country, including in Florentine.
I saw an ad in the university library and thought it looked interesting – 15 years later, I still haven’t left. I was a student volunteer, a coordinator, a board member, and now work on the national staff. Mahapach-Taghir became my “ideological home.” I know many organizations that focus on feminism, Jewish-Arab partnership, community work, etc., but there are no other organizations that combine these inherently interconnected issues in the way that Mahapach-Taghir does.
JI: Looking at the staff list on the website, all of the staff are women except for you. What are your thoughts on leading a feminist organization?
IH: I am here representing Mahapach-Taghir, but I wouldn’t say that I lead the organization, and I don’t think it would be right if I did. Our Palestinian co-director is Fidaa Nara Abu Dbai and we are currently looking for a Jewish co-director. I won’t even apply for that job because I don’t believe a man should lead an organization that is comprised primarily of women. Usually, even in civil society, most of the staff and volunteers are women and the directors are still men. We believe that it is important to break that paradigm.
JI: How does the Jewish-Arab aspect of the organization get expressed?
IH: Our communities come together for national conferences and seminars at least six times a year. One of our communities is a mixed Jewish-Arab community and, in our communities that are not mixed, there are partnerships between Jewish and Arab communities in geographic proximity.
Mainly, though, we do not think that the only way to do Jewish-Palestinian partnership work is through direct meetings…. For example, in Jerusalem, the Mahapach-Taghir activists in Kiryat HaYovel started a project called Second Opportunity, in which women who had no high school degree were able to pursue a bachelor’s degree. This might not seem political but through Mahapach-Taghir, they drew the link between their lack of education and the political marginalization they face as women in a Mizrahi community. They also understand the link between their marginalization and that of Palestinian women in Israel. The women shared their project with the rest of the communities in a national event, and that inspired the women from Tamra (a Palestinian town inside Israel) to start their own version of the project where the graduates from Jerusalem will serve as mentors. For me, this is the true meaning of partnership: each community works for its own empowerment, while acknowledging the rights and needs of other communities and inspiring one another. They work in solidarity.
JI: What is the feminist aspect of the learning communities? Are fathers also invited to participate?
IH: Each learning community is led by a steering committee that is comprised of residents, almost all of whom are women. We didn’t set out to exclude men but, when you talk about education and community empowerment, women tend to show up. The students who founded Mahapach-Taghir didn’t set out to establish a feminist organization but their view of social justice, and the fact that most of the activists that got involved were women, made it clear that feminism is one of our core values. The very fact that even today when we open a new community it is women who show up, confirms this value. Being a feminist organization doesn’t necessarily mean excluding men, but this country will be a better place when more women have active leadership roles.
JI: Organizations focusing on community development, education and youth take a long view of social change compared to political groups. Why have you chosen this form of activism?
IH: Your question assumes a dichotomy between political and social change. We in Mahapach-Taghir see community development, education and youth work as highly political. Especially in the Israeli context there is a separation between talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (political) and doing work in marginalized communities (social). As always in Mahapach-Taghir, we see this holistically. These issues are interconnected and we need to engage with them as such.
For this reason, we use this form of activism. We have a long view of social change and want to support communities in engaging in activism that will improve the lives of their families, communities and eventually their societies more generally while encouraging solidarity between Jews and Palestinians inside Israel.
JI: Are there measurable outcomes from Mahapach-Taghir’s learning communities?
IH: There are many measurable outcomes from our learning communities but the most important outcomes are not easy to measure. How do you measure empowerment, solidarity and sense of community? In recent years, the perspectives of the corporate world have increasingly influenced expectations of civil society. Organizations like Mahapach-Taghir are expected to provide products and measurable outcomes, and I think that this view is mistaken. I understand that foundations want to know if their money is being well spent but I don’t think that social change can be measured so easily. I am happy to share countless success stories. We can see changes in the communities where we work and in the activists and students that we work with. The stories that are most exciting are usually from activists who have been involved for many years and have gone through a slow but meaningful process of change.
JI: You are coming to Vancouver to solicit donations for NIF from the Diaspora Jewish community. Do you also do resource development in the Arab community (either locally or in the Diaspora)?
IH: Most of our funding comes from European foundations, not from the Jewish Diaspora. We hope that this will change and that more Diaspora Jews will see the value in our work. We also do fundraising locally in each of our communities because we believe in the value of sustainability and local partnership. We have had much more success doing this in our Arab communities. Last year, we raised over 50,000 shekels from our local communities and most of this was from our Arab communities.
JI: What do you hope to share with the Jewish community in Vancouver?
IH: I want to share with them a complex understanding of the society in Israel. I see the tension that Diaspora Jews face of feeling the need to be either “with us or against us,” but I believe that supporting Israel means supporting a more democratic, diverse, pluralistic society in Israel. I hope to bring the voice of our activists, who are doing incredible work in their communities, Jewish and Palestinian, marginalized communities around the country.
Maayan Kreitzman is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.
To register for the June 10 event at Temple Sholom, which starts at 7 p.m., go to nifcan.org/our-events/upcoming. In addition to Hamiel, NIFC has invited a local counterpart in community building as a parallel to the work being done in Israel: Lindsay Vander Hoek of Mission Possible will describe her organization’s work with residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
By age 20, Elad Peled was a senior commander in the Palmach, one of the branches of Israel’s pre-state army. He was wounded during the fighting and was taken to the hospital. On the way, he passed the Israeli town of Pardes Hanna, and remembered there was a girl he had met and liked who lived there. He wrote a quick note on a piece of paper and threw it out the window, saying that he was trying to contact her. A few days later, her parents came to the hospital with flowers and, just a few weeks later, Peled married Zimra, also a member of the Haganah, who had been accompanying convoys trying to reach besieged Jerusalem.
That was 67 years ago, just a few months before the creation of the state of Israel. Today, Elad and Zimra (who was one of only 100 babies to be born on Ellis Island, the immigration gateway to the United States) are among two of the 700 interviewees compiled by Toldot Yisrael, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to sharing the testimonies of the founders of the state of Israel.
With the collapse of the U.S.-brokered peace negotiations, the Palestinian leadership has embarked on a plan of unilateral action to gain recognition of a Palestinian state and to isolate Israel internationally. Couple those developments with the Fatah movement’s unity pact with the terrorist group Hamas, and Israel is facing a complex reality. Without peace talks, what options does Israel have? Will Israel be forced to take its own unilateral steps?
“If [an] agreement is unachievable, then moving independently to shape the borders of Israel is the better course,” suggested Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli air force general and former head of the Israel Defence Forces Military Intelligence Directorate. “While it is not the [ideal] alternative, it is better than the status quo or a bad agreement.”
Yadlin, who now serves as director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), is among a growing number of respected Israeli leaders putting forth proposals for unilateral steps. In a proposal posted earlier this month on the INSS website, Yadlin argued that Israel has more than the two options usually discussed: a peace agreement and the status quo. According to Yadlin, Israel’s four strategic options are a peace agreement along the parameters established by former U.S. president Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000, an “unacceptable” peace agreement on Palestinian terms, a status quo in which the Palestinians dictate their own terms or a status quo in which Israel dictates its own terms.
Yadlin argued that while the Clinton parameters – which include the Palestinians agreeing to end the conflict and give up both the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and dividing Jerusalem – are Israel’s “best option,” it is “highly unlikely” that such an agreement will ever be realized. Instead, Yadlin believes that Israel should promote an “Israeli option” that preserves Israel’s objectives to remain a “Jewish, democratic, secure and just state.” He said this would allow Israel to “independently shape its own borders,” with a strategy towards “advancing a two-state solution.”
Dror Fuchs in Israel with the ambulance donated by Winnipeg. (photo by Ariel Karabelnicoff)
In May 2013, the first Winnipeg-donated ambulance took to the streets of Israel. The vehicle was largely donated by allocations from Jewish Foundation of Manitoba fundholders responding to an ambulance fundraising drive, with additional money from members of the general community topping off donations. Another campaign for a second Winnipeg-donated ambulance is already on its way.
The Canadian Magen David Adom (CMDA) Winnipeg chapter ambulance-drive telethon was held on Nov. 24, 2013, with lead CMDA Winnipegger organizers Yolanda Papini Pollack and Sheldon Zamik, assisted by members of the CMDA Winnipeg chapter.
Growing up in Israel, Papini Pollack said she had to learn early on that it is never too early to prepare for a crisis.
“It’s rewarding to have a small role in saving the life of someone in need,” she told the Independent. “It scares me to think someone won’t get the medical treatment s/he needs due to a lack of operational ambulances.
“Magen David Adom has always been instrumental in helping save lives of Israeli residents, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. It’s an organization that unites all sectors of Israeli society.”
A filmmaker and educator, Papini Pollack created a short video clip to help convey the message of the fundraising drive and also spearheads the annual telethon.
“It was a great feeling to accomplish our goal last year, but there was also a feeling of fulfilling a duty,” she said. “This is something I had to be involved in, as I have a responsibility to the people of Israel. This is the least I can do.”
CMDA’s Winnipeg chapter wants to send more ambulances to Israel.
“It will be amazing if even one person in Israel would be able to say, ‘My life was saved thanks to an ambulance sent by people of Winnipeg.’”
“Wouldn’t it be great if Winnipeg could send an ambulance to Israel every year?” she asked. “It will be amazing if even one person in Israel would be able to say, ‘My life was saved thanks to an ambulance sent by people of Winnipeg.’
“Last year’s donors were so happy to see that 100 percent of their money was used to buy the ambulance. They were also thrilled to see a concrete photo of what their donation was able to achieve – the actual ambulance serving the people of Israel and being appreciated.”
Papini Pollack has received many messages from people in Winnipeg, expressing their thanks, as well as from people in Israel very appreciative of this lifesaving gift.
“Hearing that all the volunteers want to ride in the new Winnipeg ambulance was one of the most heart-warming things I heard all year,” she said.
The Winnipeg chapter of CMDA will continue raising awareness about the importance of MDA, while raising funds to send the second Winnipeg-sponsored ambulance to Israel.
“Our goals are very attainable,” said Papini Pollack. “We already raised a large portion of the needed money needed, with hope our community will succeed again this year.
“People wanting to get involved are welcomed to join our committee or help in other ways. We always need more volunteers and donations of any amount.”
Ariel Karabelnicoff, executive director of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Manitoba Region, first heard about the ambulance fundraising drive last September, having crossed paths with Papini Pollack at the Prophecy Conference, an event to which they were both invited to have a booth.
“When I heard the first ambulance was on its way, it felt amazing,” said Karabelnicoff. “I was proud of my colleagues and the people of Winnipeg. And, as I shared with other people news that the ambulance was on its way, they too were proud and impressed.”
Karabelnicoff’s current connection to MDA is through his friend’s son, Dror Fuchs, a 16-year-old who volunteers with MDA (during his free time, on weekends) in Israel.
“I heard from John Plantz, a Christian Zionist who is one of the main organizers of the Prophecy Conference in Winnipeg and who is part of the fundraising campaign for the ambulance, that he is very excited that Winnipeggers successfully sent an ambulance,” said Karabelnicoff.
“Recently, Dror sent me a photo of a brand new ambulance he was volunteering on and he mentioned it came from Winnipeg. You could probably imagine how I felt inside.”
To donate to the Winnipeg chapter ambulance drive or the Vancouver chapter ambulance drive, send a cheque to CMDA head office in Montreal (at CMDA, Suite 3155, 6900 Decarie Blvd., Montreal, QC, H3X 2TB), with mention of where you would like the money to go to, call 1-800-731-2848, or visit cmdai.org. CMDA is a registered charity and all donations will be acknowledged with a tax receipt.
Hofesh can swim now, thanks to a flipper made of polypropylene that is durable but flexible. (photo by Baz Ratner from Yanic Levy)
When a young green sea turtle with both his left limbs nearly severed washed up on Israel’s Mediterranean shore four years ago, the first thing on the rescuers’ minds was how they could save his life. The rescuers amputated both of the turtle’s limbs, which left him unable to swim or even keep his head above water – he was able only to stay on dry land or navigate in shallow ponds. Things changed when Shlomi Gez, a student from Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem, happened upon the turtle rescue centre’s website.
Gez had been looking for a final project to complete his studies. “As soon as I saw the place, I was inspired, and I knew I could help solve their most acute problem, which was Hofesh,” he said.
The biggest hurdle for Hofesh – that’s the name given to the rescued sea turtle – was the loss of balance. Losing both limbs on the same side interfered with the stability needed for swimming. “A flipper enables fish to retain their balance, so I decided to adapt the idea to a sea turtle,” Gez told the Independent.
Gez’s designed a specialty flipper made of polypropylene that is durable but flexible. He attached it to Hofesh’s back with a harness – and it worked. As Gez fine-tuned the prototype, the permanent flipper was recently glued to Hofesh’s shell with a special glue designed to grow with the shell as the turtle grows.
“At first, we could only put him in a shallow-water pool because he would have drowned but, now that he has his artificial flipper, he swims completely normally,” said Yaniv Levy, director of the rescue centre.
The centre has rescued more than 500 sea turtles – green turtles, a highly endangered species, and loggerheads – since it was founded 15 years ago, and successfully returned about 70 percent of them to the sea.
Unfortunately, Hofesh cannot be set free – if his flipper ever came loose, he would drown. But as a member of a globally endangered species, Hofesh has been selected for a breeding program. “We hope his offspring will be returned to the sea,” said Levy.
Although Hofesh’s disability is visible, this does not bother his new mate, a blind green sea turtle, named Tsurit. They swim together in their shared tank at the centre. “He nibbles her neck and likes to frolic with her,” said Levy, noting green sea turtles have about the same average life span as humans, but reach sexual maturity only around the age of 30.
In 1930, the green turtle population was at around 30,000. At the time, they were called, “the Edible Sea Turtle,” hunted nearly to extinction. Today, there are fewer than 30 wild green turtles in the area.
In 1930, the green turtle population was at around 30,000. At the time, they were called, “the Edible Sea Turtle,” hunted nearly to extinction. Today, there are fewer than 30 wild green turtles in the area.
The centre runs a breeding program, which currently includes 26 green sea turtles. Its hospital treats the green turtles and the more common, but also endangered, loggerhead species, with some 15 patients in care. Like Tsurit and Hofesh, most have been injured by boats and fishing nets.
“It’s unfortunate that Hofesh will never be free,” said Levy, “but he has a good life here.”
The hope, of course, is that Tsurit and Hofesh’s union will increase the population of rare green sea turtles in the Mediterranean.
Sea turtles lay 300-500 eggs per breeding season. During a female’s lifetime, she can lay around 6,000 eggs.
The survival rate of young sea turtles is estimated as only one in every 100 hatchlings reaching sexual maturity. In the Mediterranean alone, about 1,000 turtles are injured annually.
The Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Centre is part of the world network focused on treating injured turtles. Its aim is to create a better future for the turtles’ near-extinct populations, to raise public awareness for better life, to achieve a society that better cares for its oceans and seas and to help reestablish an environmental balance. The new dedicated rescue centre inside the existing Alexander River National Park, where the river forms an estuary flowing into the Mediterranean, will be isolated from noise and populated areas.
Another Israeli turtle story involves a groundbreaking medical device used to treat terror victims helping save the life of a Caspian turtle at the Israeli Wildlife Hospital, Ramat Gan Safari. This turtle posed a challenge for veterinarians, as its shell had too big a crack to fix the standard way (with bolts and wire). The veterinarians turned to the head of the plastic surgery unit at Hillel Yaffe Hospital in Hadera, Dr. Morris Topaz, an Israeli doctor who treats terror victims.
Topaz originally created the device to help people who lost areas of skin too far separated to sew together yet too close together to do a skin implant. It brings the two edges of existing skin closer to each other, eliminating the need for skin implants. With the special device, they glued the unique plastic device on both sides of the turtle’s fracture and connected them with a special plastic string that looks a lot like a zip tie.
Seeing his device in action on a turtle, Topaz decided to donate the idea and device to the Israeli Wildlife Hospital for future cases.
More than 2,200 injured wild animals are brought to the Israeli Wildlife Hospital annually. About 60 percent of the animals are treated, rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
Marc and Chantal Belzberg with MK Danny Danon, centre, at OneFamily’s August 2013 launch of Longing for a Hug, an exhibit of original artworks created from the personal stories of bereaved Israeli children. (photo from Finn Partners)
In the summer of 2001, Jerusalemites Marc and Chantal Belzberg were busy planning their daughter Michal’s bat mitzvah. Relatives from Vancouver and New York were booking their flights to Israel in anticipation of what was to be a huge and festive family gathering. Then, on Aug. 9, 2001, just one month before the bat mitzvah celebration, a suicide bomber entered the Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem and executed one of the most notorious terror attacks of the Second Intifada. The family was faced with an uncomfortable question: How could they possibly celebrate in the face of such great tragedy?
The Belzbergs decided to cancel the party and instead committed themselves to a bat mitzvah project. They would visit and console the injured and bereaved families of the Sbarro bombing, and the money that Michal’s extended family would have spent coming to Israel for the celebration would be collected and turned into a fund for these victims of terror.
Less than a week later, another suicide attack wounded 15 Israelis in a café. The needs were clear, and the Belzbergs felt that they had to try to assist these latest victims of terror, as well.
“It turned into a family project, a long-term commitment that we took on after several months of working with the victims,” Chantal Belzberg, now the executive vice-chair of OneFamily, recalled. “We came to the simple conclusion that if they need help, they are our family. We wanted to help every one of them.”
The small family project quickly blossomed into a large nonprofit operation. From the tragedies of the Second Intifada, OneFamily, a national organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families, was born. Though maintaining the organization was a daunting task, a strong family history of commitment to the Jewish community prepared them for the challenge.
The Belzberg family has roots in Vancouver that go back 46 years, when they moved here from Edmonton in 1968.
“I went to Eric Hamber High School but, for Grade 10, my parents sent me on a program called Haddasim,” Marc Belzberg recalled, referring to the program sponsored by Hadassah-WIZO that sent groups of Canadian teenagers to Israel for the year in order for them to serve as youth ambassadors upon their return. Along with the deep connection he forged with the land of Israel, he also developed a love for philanthropy, a familial commitment he picked up in his youth.
“My father, Samuel Belzberg, was involved with and actively supported so many institutions and programs, both in Vancouver and throughout North America. He supported Simon Fraser University and started a leadership program called Action Canada for the 15 best and brightest future leaders in the country. In the Jewish community, he supported the Conservative synagogue Beth Israel and [an] Orthodox synagogue, Schara Tzedeck. He invested in Jewish education in Vancouver through his work with Vancouver Hebrew Academy, Vancouver Talmud Torah, the former Maimonides [Secondary School], and now King David High School, as well as NCSY, and he helped preserve Jewish history, contributing to the foundation of the Wiesenthal Centre and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.”
Imbued with a sense of communal responsibility and a love for Israel, Marc and Chantal Belzberg moved their family to Jerusalem in 1991. With the foundation of OneFamily 10 years later, they continued the family legacy of philanthropic work.
OneFamily supports victims of terror from the time of impact, and continues to provide assistance, be it emotional or financial, for as long as needed, Marc Belzberg explained. “Today, the support required is so different. People don’t know what is going on here in Israel, like they did during the intifada. Thank God, attacks are not happening on a large scale like they were, but they are happening on an individual level: an officer is stabbed, a soldier is killed while sleeping on the bus. But there are no more headlines like there used to be.”
This reality makes the work undertaken by OneFamily even more important. “OneFamily does not just provide an emergency response, we are in it for the long term,” said Marc Belzberg. “That means we are there for the young man who is scared to start his own family due to trauma a decade earlier. We are there to pay for IVF treatments for the woman over 40 who lost her children. And we are there for the woman who cannot support her children due to severe PTSD from three separate terror attacks.”
A quarter of OneFamily’s budget goes to the children’s division, because, as Chantal Belzberg explained, children have the greatest chance of fully healing from trauma. Each child is paired up with a volunteer counselor who builds a relationship with the child(ren). They are present for important dates, such as the yahrzeit (anniversary) of family members who were killed.
As a “full-service” organization, OneFamily helps victims throughout the entire healing process and provides financial aid, including lobbying the government to ensure that victims are receiving the funding to which they may be entitled. They also provide social services, including psychological treatment, Shabbat retreats, summer camps and other activities to help bring victims together. She summarized OneFamily’s approach simply: “Victims can help each other. Healing happens better together than alone.”
While the headlines about Israel focus on peace talks, it is important to remember the individuals who have suffered throughout the conflict and need continuing support. As the Belzbergs see it, every last one of them is family.
A horse figurine is evidence of early Jewish ritual practice. (photo by Clara Amit/IAA.COM)
One might think that a significant archeological find a few hours’ walk from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem would turn up artifacts we would recognize as Jewish. But since the Judaism of the day was not what we know, the find yielded ritual objects that seem vaguely pagan, almost heretical by today’s standards.
Shua Kisilevitz, the archeologist who was part of the team that excavated the site at Tel Motza, about seven kilometres west of Jerusalem, prefers the phrase “pagan Yahwism” to describe the religion of the era.
Last December, Kisilevitz and three fellow archeologists announced what they called an “unusual and striking” find, unearthed in construction for a highway: the 2,750-year-old walls of a temple, along with a cache of ritual objects that included a pedestal decorated with lions and sphinxes, pendants, pottery and vessel fragments, and figurines – two human and two animal – that may or may not have depicted deities.
The dig provides “rare archeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general and in the Jerusalem region in particular,” the team announced.
The uniqueness of the find is even more remarkable, the archeologists said, because of its proximity to the First Temple, built, according to the Bible, under King Solomon in 960 BCE. But archeologists know little about the period’s religious practices because there are hardly any remnants of ritual buildings from the era, according to Kisilevitz.
While more study is needed, the find provides valuable insights into what those rituals might have been, she said in an interview prior to her recent talk on the subject at the University of Toronto. While those practices may seem strange and un-Jewish today, they were in keeping with the rules of the time, Kisilevitz said.
Previous excavations showed that Motza functioned within the royal administration of the Kingdom of Judah, she said. “It was very much connected to Jerusalem. [It couldn’t] create its own religion. The people of Motza didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Oh, we want to create something new.’ They couldn’t break off so easily.”
The artifacts are important because they reflect a formative time for Judaism, she noted, adding they show that the ancient Israelite faith was not always centralized in Jerusalem and its practitioners may have used ritual objects now forbidden as graven images. “There are all these presumptions we have which we project onto the early formation of religion,” Kisilevitz said. “This temple finally shows us how the religion started out and what it really looked like at the time. They [were] doing what was common in the period.”
The find also conforms to biblical accounts, which mention local religious precincts outside Jerusalem, she added. And “Motza” is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a town in the tribal lands of Benjamin, which bordered Judah.
Kisilevitz, who works for the Israeli Antiquities Authority and is in Ontario for several months on an exchange with the University of Toronto, said the team does not know whether the human and animal figurines served a religious purpose. “It’s kind of tricky and a little bit hard to say,” she noted.
The archeological team believes the temple at Tel Motza must have functioned before religious reforms enacted in the times of kings Hezekiah and Josiah, which abolished all ritual sites outside Jerusalem and concentrated religious practices solely in the Temple.
Kisilevitz believes the artifacts do not conflict “at all” with modern understanding of Judaism. “We just have to change the way we think of the religion at the beginning.”
Ron Csillag is a Toronto freelance writer. A version of this article was originally published in theCanadian Jewish News.