Tal Grinfas-David of the Centre for Israel Education speaks with educators at Vancouver Talmud Torah last month. (photo from VTT)
Educators at Lower Mainland Jewish day schools had the opportunity to consider the relevance of Israel literacy last month, when Tal Grinfas-David, the Centre for Israel Education’s day school specialist, was in town the week of Feb. 18 to deliver a talk on the subject and work with local teachers and administrators. Her keynote speech, titled Teaching Modern Israel – Challenges and Opportunities, was part of a community professional development day.
The CIE, which is based in Atlanta, Ga., received a grant for a three-year initiative to work with nine Jewish day schools across North America and help them enhance their Israel education efforts. Vancouver Talmud Torah and King David High School are two of the nine schools and Grinfas-David spent a day coaching educators at each of them. She will return for the next two years to reinforce the changes CIE is promoting.
The issue, she said, is that, across North America, many graduates of Jewish day school education don’t have enough Israel literacy to grapple with the world, to justify a strong connection to Israel and to inform their Jewish identity.
“The concept we’re promoting is to turn Israel education into something all teachers can support, not just Jewish studies faculty,” she told the Independent. The desire is there, she added. “The Vancouver community is very supportive and wants to see Israel education boosted and incorporated into different subject areas. But it’s going to be a long-term process.”
No stranger to education, Grinfas-David comes to her role with a PhD in curriculum and instruction and 25 years as an educator in Israel and the United States. Over the next three years, she will move between Jewish day schools in Denver, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Jersey and Vancouver, coaching their educational teams.
“We’re thrilled to have this grant to visit the individual sites and get to know the different schools’ cultures,” she said. “Each school is different and unique, with strengths and challenges, and this grant allows us to customize and tailor our offerings to specific communities.”
The goal of Israel literacy is to graduate Jewish students who understand the relevance of Israel in their lives and feel confident in their knowledge. They need this, she said, because understanding Judaism means understanding it’s not solely a religion.
“It’s also a belonging to a peoplehood, a nation with a Jewish homeland,” she said. “To understand modern Israel today, we have to see it as a continuation of our Jewish history.”
Grinfas-David said she would need three days to address all the ways that Israel literacy counts significantly in the life of a Jew.
“Israel impacts how Jews live in other countries, like the U.S. and Canada, where we are free. Students at our Jewish day schools have never experienced powerlessness or persecution, as they have the good fortune of being born here and now, with many freedoms. But that’s all the more reason to have them understand it was not always like this for Jews.
“Being part of a nation means there is an obligation to support your people, because of your fortune,” she continued. “There’s a calling to engage and to reflect on what Israel means for these students in their lives. Israel literacy is about having a repertoire of primary sources under your belt, so that when students leave the school setting and hear different narratives, they’ll be critical consumers of information, and they’ll know the facts they need. At CEI, our goal is to give them the ability and the opportunity to have the confidence to be critical consumers.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
A contingent from Richmond Chabad CTeen joined the 11th annual CTeen International Shabbaton that took place in New York last month. (photo from Chabad Richmond)
Teens from around the world celebrated Jewish unity, heritage and pride at the 11th annual CTeen (Chabad Teen Network) International Shabbaton. The convention, which took place Feb. 22-24, drew more than 2,600 participants. From world-class speakers to a closing ceremony with a surprise appearance by WeWork founder Adam Neumann, the Shabbaton left the teens exhilarated and ready to share their Jewish pride with others.
The weekend included a traditional Shabbat experience in the heart of Crown Heights, the Chassidic neighbourhood of Brooklyn, hands-on workshops and lectures about Judaism, and the Times Square takeover, featuring Jewish pop star Yaakov Shwekey.
The theme of the Shabbaton was I-Matter. The theme was meant to empower teens to recognize and use their inherent, true value, which is not dependent on achievements or status. It’s a message that has resonated with many teens, who have found their voices and personal missions through their involvement in CTeen.
“The highlight of the CTeen International Shabbaton was getting to know fellow Jewish teens from around the world, and learning about their Jewish communities and what it’s like to be a Jew in their area. It was an experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait until next year,” shared Richmond teen Sarah Aginsky, Grade 10.
“The most meaningful part of my experience at the Shabbaton would be when we spent Saturday night in Times Square,” said fellow Richmond teen Aidan Wessels, also in Grade 10. “It really makes you feel at home, being surrounded by Jewish people, and you don’t have to be ashamed or anything to be who you really are. It really touched my heart when we were introduced, via video, to Rabbi Yitzy Horowitz, who has been diagnosed with ALS and chose to live with such a disease and still try to look on the bright side of everything.”
“The CTeen International Shabbaton was so meaningful to me,” added Jordan Wessels, Grade 12. “This is because we all have such a great Jewish experience, and meeting Jewish teens from all over the world. The amount of energy of so many people like you is truly amazing.”
Over the weekend, 15 teen speakers shared personal stories of struggle, triumph and strength in the face of adversity. The stories ranged from students who fought for Jewish rights at school, to those who dealt with alopecia (spot baldness) and subsequent bullying, to teens who lost family members to drug addiction.
Priest-turned-rabbi Yaakov Parisi shared his inspiration for living a Jewish life with teens in an animated story during Shabbat dinner. Prof. Binyamin Abrams, who lectures on chemistry at Boston University, answered questions about Torah and science, and ecouraged teens to seek knowledge while living Jewishly.
“The secret of my life and success is keeping Shabbat,” declared Neumann during the closing. “Disconnecting from the world for 25 hours and connecting to something greater than myself makes me who I am. There has never been a more relevant time in history to celebrate being Jewish. If you come away with one thing today, I hope it’s that you disconnect to connect.”
“You may find yourself alone, the only Jew in your public school, or you may feel like a minority, but remember: there is no such thing as a small Jew,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chair of CTeen. “I hope you take the energy you gained this weekend and carry it into every aspect of your lives back at home.”
“Our intrinsic worth is not based on achievements,” said Chabad Richmond’s Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman. “Every individual can connect to G-d, no matter the circumstances. It is because of this connection that every individual, in any situation, can make a significant difference. That is what CTeen is all about.”
With more than 500 chapters in 23 countries, CTeen Network’s mission is to empower tomorrow’s generation of leaders through Jewish education and by providing a strong Jewish network across the globe. Teens develop awareness and confidence, while connecting with individuals who share similar experiences and beliefs. They become an integral part of a group that focuses on building core values and stresses positive character development. CTeen is open to Jewish teens regardless of affiliation.
Can’t be home for bedtime? Temi lets you read a story to your child remotely. (photo from Temi)
In the fourth season of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, theoretical physicist and all-around nerd Sheldon decides that he no longer wants to physically interact with his friends and colleagues. He cobbles together a telepresence robot with his face on its screen, which navigates around his home and office and turns toward whomever Sheldon is speaking. This fictionalized glimpse of a future filled with personal robots is simultaneously hilarious and creepy.
“We took the creepy factor into account when we designed our robot,” said Danny Isserles, chief executive officer of the U.S. division of Temi, an Israeli robotics firm that is building an almost functionally identical (but a whole lot spiffier) version of Sheldon’s telepresence unit.
Temi has a sleek, semi-rounded body – it looks a bit like a high-tech vacuum cleaner with a subtle human presence – and stands three-feet tall on its four wheels. Inside Temi are two main computers. The first comprises Temi’s “face,” made from a customized version of an Android tablet.
“It’s nothing special,” Isserles conceded in an anything but robotic conversation with Israel21c. As with most Android-based mobile devices today, the Temi tablet can display video, play music or call up the internet by voice command.
“We’ve done a demo of Temi controlling a smart home. It can turn the lights on and off,” Isserles said. Any Android developer could add other apps; for example, to make Temi control a smart home thermostat.
Temi’s “body” has a full Linux-based computer inside plus an array of sensors – LiDAR, 2D and 3D cameras, encoders measuring the wheel’s movements – that help Temi navigate smoothly.
“In order to get from one side of the room to the other, we humans instinctively choose the easiest path to follow with no effort, passing over small obstacles and around bigger ones,” explained cofounder and Temi Israel CEO Yossi Wolf. But this is a complex task for robots and the shortest way is not necessarily the fastest.
“For example, when you move from the kitchen to the living room, you can pass through sofas and slalom through all the kitchen chairs or you can bypass them the long way, which will be the fast and natural way.”
Temi’s sensors ensure it won’t fall down the stairs or run over your small dog. “We had a live case study in our office – my dog,” said Isserles. “I said, the first time this robot touches my dog, the robot is going out the window.”
Temi’s designers “built an algorithm to connect all the sensors together and enable Temi to construct a path through a space,” said Isserles. “Because of the navigation, we have a platform with abilities no one else has yet achieved.”
That may not last for long. Amazon reportedly is developing a robot known as Vesta, which follows users around like a mobile Alexa. Other home robots in the works include LG’s Hub bot, Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri, and Jibo out of technology powerhouse MIT.
Isserles said competition is good “because this will build the market, take the robot out of the niche and bring it into the mainstream.”
Temi formally launched sales at CES 2019 in January and expects first deliveries to be made this month. The robot can be ordered now on Temi’s website and through select retail outlets in the United States.
A half-dozen immediate applications for Temi come to mind.
In the office, a staffer on the controlling side of the robot can make like Sheldon and attend a business meeting without actually being there. A manager can stroll around chatting with colleagues and, unlike video conferencing, there’s no need to interrupt anyone’s workday to assemble in a meeting room.
Temi can serve as the host at a restaurant (“Hello, I’m Temi. Welcome to Applebees”), a hotel concierge, a sales clerk, an airport check-in agent, a museum docent, a remote yoga teacher, a playmate for the kids (imagine hide-and-seek with a robot), an aid for home-bound seniors and a remote-care physician. But the main idea is to provide a telepresence in the home.
“It’s not the same as being there, of course, but think of a deployed soldier in Afghanistan who can hop into a robot and hang out with his family for a couple of hours.”
“If you’re stuck at work, you can hop into your Temi, press ‘Bobby’s room,’ and Temi will go there so you can read Bobby a bedtime story,” Isserles said. “It’s not the same as being there, of course, but think of a deployed soldier in Afghanistan who can hop into a robot and hang out with his family for a couple of hours.”
But why do you need a robot for that? Couldn’t you just Skype from the computer or an iPad?
“This is a much better experience,” contended Isserles. “It’s more like hanging out. If I’m on a Skype call with my nephews, they say hi, then run away and my sister has to chase them to come back. The robot can hang out, explore, wander around, talk to different people.”
You can also ask Temi to initiate the video by tapping Temi on its head or saying, “Hey, Temi, call Mom.” Temi will lock on your position, plan an efficient path to get to you wherever you are in the house, initiate the call and then follow you around while you talk.
Isserles said Temi’s aim is to appeal to busy families where the parents work long hours, travel a lot and love technology.
It still sounds a bit creepy – would you want your robot father sitting at the dinner table with you, turning its Android head from side to side to keep the conversation flowing?
“My experience is that everyone who came in thinking it’s creepy, after a minute or two of demonstrating how it works, they ask, ‘How much is it?’” said Isserles.
The price is cheap by robot standards – just $1,500 US. That’s partly because Temi was not built, like most other robots, for defence purposes, where a single robot could run up to $200,000.
That said, Temi got its start from the defence industry. CEO Wolf previously cofounded Roboteam to build tactical robotic systems for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, search-and-rescue and delivering payloads to soldiers in the field. Temi was originally part of Roboteam, but the companies decided to split, with Wolf going full-time to Temi and cofounder Elad Levy remaining at the helm of Roboteam.
Temi employs 65 people, most in the Tel Aviv research-and-development centre plus 10 people in New York and 20 in China, where the robots are manufactured. The company has raised $82 million, including $21 million in December 2018 from former Alibaba chief technology officer John Wu, Italy’s Generali Investments and Hong Kong-based internet-of-things company Ogawa. Temi and Ogawa have established a strategic partnership with an emphasis on selling in China.
“We could build a mechanical arm with an accurate and gentle grip, no problem, but then it would be a $20,000 product, not a $1,500 one.”
While Temi is being initially positioned as a roaming telepresence device, the robot can work without someone on the other side. Ask it to play a song and Temi will call it up using its built-in wi-fi connection, then blast out the tunes via 20-watt Harman Kardon speakers. Temi’s 10-inch touchscreen is great for playing YouTube videos, too.
Temi gets eight hours of continuous use per charge and has a docking station for repowering.
Temi has one more unique selling point: a tray. Tell Temi to fetch some tea from the kitchen and the robot will return with the chai, although a human has to load and unload the teacups.
“We could build a mechanical arm with an accurate and gentle grip, no problem,” said Isserles, “but then it would be a $20,000 product, not a $1,500 one.”
The tea tray turns out to have been the genesis for what would evolve into Temi. Wolf was visiting his grandmother and she offered him some tea.
“But her hands were shaking and he was worried,” Isserles recalled. Wolf asked her if she’d like a walking cane. “She said, ‘No, I’m not old.’ So he asked her, ‘Would you like a robot?’ That, she would go for. She wanted something cool.”
Every Jewish start-up “starts from the grandmother,” Isserles quipped. Even those building personal robots.
Israel21c is a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org.
This picture of Molly Bernstein, right, was taken last year at the School of Peace, a program run in partnership by IsraAID and the Israeli Hashomer Hatzair Youth Movement on Lesbos, Greece. (photo from IsraAID)
“I say crisis with air quotes because I think that’s a bad attitude,” Molly Bernstein told the Independent. “It’s an opportunity.”
In discussing the number of displaced people in the world, usually referred to as “the refugee crisis,” Bernstein said, “I strongly believe that diversity is a social good for our societies. When we integrate new people into our communities, we learn more about ourselves and others, build bridges between communities, and build relationships that breed positivity in the world.
“When we open our doors and our hearts to refugees, we’re doing exactly this,” she said. “That’s why it’s an opportunity to expand our worldview and the spectrum of opportunities for doing good that stands before us.”
Bernstein, a 27-year-old resident of south Tel Aviv, works for IsraAID, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that works in emergency and long-term development settings in dozens of countries. The humanitarian aid organization responds to conflict, natural disasters, acute poverty, discrimination and displacement.
Bernstein, currently working in the communications department at IsraAID headquarters in Tel Aviv, spoke to the Jewish Independent during a recent trip to Vancouver, Jan. 31-Feb. 3.
“My parents were longtime members of Habonim,” she said, referring to the Zionist youth movement. “We lived in Israel for a time and I became interested in learning Arabic, so as to have a deeper understanding of the conflicts in Israeli society and how to address them. Learning Arabic opened up a lot of doors for me.”
Bernstein completed a bachelor of arts at the University of Maryland, College Park, then lived in Morocco, Jordan and Tajikistan. She began working with an Arab-Jewish Israeli NGO in Israel, the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which focuses on the creation of a shared society, and then landed a job with Ha’aretz.
It was while she was working at Ha’aretz, combing through pictures of the Syrian military’s chemical attacks on Syrian civilians, that she decided she wanted to do relief work. She had heard of IsraAID and considered working for them “an item from my bucket list.” So, when a job opportunity with the organization arose, she jumped at it, and got it. She was sent to the Greek island of Lesbos as head of missions, where she oversaw programs supporting refugees. Six months later, she was promoted to the NGO’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.
“IsraAID started when a group of buddies who were connected and had networks of doctors, nurses [and] engineers, and search-and-rescue folk would organize themselves and fly out and get some work done,” explained Bernstein. “When [the 2010 earthquake in] Haiti happened, they realized they needed a long-term response plan and so they started an NGO to develop that capability. They were in Haiti for eight years.”
Founded in 2001, IsraAID has an annual budget of about $10 million and has worked in emergency and long-term development missions in 46 countries, including the United States. Volunteers with IsraAID, for example, continue to work in Reno, Nev., with evacuees from the wildfires in Northern California. In 2017 alone, IsraAID worked in 20 countries.
As an Israeli aid organization, IsraAID sometimes finds itself in the crosshairs of those who want to view their work through the framework of either Zionist or anti-Zionist ideology. Bernstein said IsraAID is having none of it either way. “We are really just focused on the work,” she said. “Other people may want to raise other questions about it, but we’re just like, OK, you have that conversation, there’s a person I have to help over here.”
That said, the organization’s Israeli base means they have unique contributions to offer. “We are proud to bring technologies from the country we come from,” said Bernstein. “And it’s not a coincidence that we’re really good at water management and trauma processing. Those are two things Israelis have needed to become good at it.”
Bernstein is continuing her academic studies at Tel Aviv University, pursuing a master’s degree in Middle Eastern history, while working for IsraAID. Meanwhile, the NGO is looking to expand the ranks of their volunteers. They’ve opened a headquarters in Los Angeles and Bernstein said another North American base may follow, possibly even in Canada. In Vancouver? “It’s not impossible,” she said.
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Grandparents and grandchildren discover their roots in Jerusalem with the G2: Global Intergenerational Initiative. (photo by David Salem / Zoog Productions)
The G2: Global Intergenerational Initiative is a new yearlong program being offered by the Jewish Agency. It helps bring grandparents and grandchildren closer with activities and conversations. It is spearheaded by Jay Weinstein, a rabbi from New Jersey who now lives in Israel.
“I work in the partnership unit, trying to build relationships between Jews around the world and Israelis,” Weinstein told the Independent. “I bring my connections from North America and also am exposed to Israeli communities here … trying to build bridges with Israel and overseas.”
The project stems from findings gleaned from meetings that the Jewish Agency held in a few prominent Jewish communities, which pointed to a lack of programming provided to older adults and a lack of an Israel connection among the young.
“We went to our partners on the ground, saying, ‘Let’s come up with something together’ … versus coming up with the idea ourselves and then trying to sell it or take it somewhere,” said Weinstein. “We wanted to do it in collaboration.
“Much of what we do in the Jewish community is for the younger generation,” he continued, “but, here, you have … people who spent their lives building up the federations, schools and synagogues. They’re usually the ones volunteering and donating, [yet] we’re failing to have something to really offer to them.”
Certainly, grandparents can be a positive influence in creating a Jewish identity in their grandchildren.
“When they’ve done studies asking young adults why they are involved in Jewish life or Jewish programming, what came back involved Jewish grandparents,” said Weinstein. “That’s even truer in interfaith marriage, [where] the role of the Jewish grandparent passing down values to their grandchildren is of even greater importance.”
The G2 initiative brings grandparents and grandchildren together over the course of a year through activities and creative projects.
“It gives grandparents the chance to think about what is important to them, about what they want their grandchildren to know about, how their family narrative makes them unique, and special things they care about,” said Weinstein.
Participating grandkids should be in Grades 5 and 6, preteens old enough to have deeper conversations, while still under the guidance of their parents “and they aren’t yet too cool to be with Grandma and Grandpa to do the activities,” said Weinstein.
“It’s not a text-based study. It’s more experiential,” he said. “And, at the monthly meetings, we give the grandparents and grandchildren things to do on their own time without a facilitator, like a little mesima (activity) or venture to do in the community.”
Each month has a different focus, such as discussing the most important Jewish gem of a place. This particular theme gives grandparents the opportunity to take their grandchildren to one of their favourite places and explain why it is important to them. Then, the grandchildren guide the grandparents to the most important Jewish gem to them, also sharing why it is important. If the grandparents and grandchildren so choose, they can record the visits on a two-minute podcast to share with others.
“Based on the partnership platform, we have communities overseas doing it with communities in Israel,” said Weinstein. “And, over the course of the year, they’ll connect with each other digitally. Sometimes, they’ll be synchronized and do a Zoom call, sometimes unsynchronized. One of the bigger goals of the unit is to connect Jews from around the world to Israel and, on the other hand, to teach and educate Israelis about what Jewish life is like outside of Israel.”
Many larger Jewish communities can run G2 on their own, in-house, connecting with their sister city in Israel, but most communities won’t be able to carry it out on the same scale as that of the Jewish Agency.
“We believe there is power in the global Jewish community,” said Weinstein. “To be part of a worldwide network of people is a wonderful experience. I don’t think, oftentimes, that a fifth or sixth grader in Vancouver is connected with another Jewish fifth or sixth grader in Miami and Sydney … and we believe that is a very powerful experience. We’ve been in touch with the Jewish Federation in Vancouver and they are interested in G2.”
The partnership unit needs a local organization to launch the program in a region.
“In most cases, [the partner] is the federation, as they are our national partner, but, that being said, we’ve designed this program to be brought to any organization,” said Weinstein. “So, if there’s a synagogue that wants to participate in G2 or a JCC, we can work with them.
“I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of interest from communities all around North America and the world. People understand that grandparents and grandchildren have this special and unique bond. When we can build meaningful Jewish experiences around the grandparent and grandchild relationship, it’s just very powerful.”
The yearlong program includes an eight-day visit that the grandparents and grandchildren take to Israel – traveling about the country, learning and meeting their Israeli partners. They also get the opportunity to stay in the homes of their Israeli partners for part of the trip, getting a firsthand glimpse at everyday life in Israel.
While there is a cost for the program, G2 works with the different community partners to subsidize some of that, and is also looking for philanthropic partners.
“We’d love to have a partner to help us bring this around the world and not have a barrier of prices and expenses prohibiting families from participating,” said Weinstein. “We truly believe … sometimes we use the language of Birthright … that it’s a birthright of every grandparent to have meaningful Jewish experiences with their grandchild, including traveling with them to Israel.”
Adir under the wedding canopy with his bride, Liat. (photo from UPnRIDE)
Forty days before his marriage, a wheelchair-bound Israeli man named Adir wrote to UPnRIDE Robotics, sharing his dream to stand under the chuppah with his bride, Liat. Chief executive officer Oren Tamari invited Adir to company headquarters in Yokne’am Illit to try the UPnRIDE 1.1 mobility device, now in transition from research-and-development to market.
“We saw he managed well with it, and we arranged for him to use the device during his wedding” on Nov. 12, Tamari told Israel21c.
The day after his wedding, Adir posted on UPnRIDE’s Facebook page: “Thank you all for [the] wonderful experience and magnificent night. Our chuppah was so amazing, people cried when [they] saw me standing and praying. My wife and I just want to say that you made our night as close as possible to perfection!!!”
UPnRIDE was invented by Amit Goffer, whose ReWalk robotic exoskeleton allows paraplegics to stand, walk, navigate steps and even run marathons. Goffer, who has a PhD in electrical and computer engineering, could not use ReWalk himself because he is a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. So he and Tamari formed a new company to develop an upright mobility solution enabling any wheelchair-bound person – quadriplegics, paraplegics, people with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, ALS and traumatic brain injury – to recline, stand and navigate indoors and outdoors.
Jointed braces and harnessing straps provide support, while advanced motion technology and real-time computing ensure automatic balancing and stability on uneven terrain. Goffer said other types of standing wheelchairs can’t be used outdoors because of the danger of tipping over.
UPnRIDE is now raising funds, working toward U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance and doing usability studies with all kinds of wheelchair users. A major study has begun at the U.S. Veterans Health Administration’s Centre of Excellence in New York to determine the benefits for UPnRIDE users. Many health problems are associated with long-term wheelchair sitting, from muscle atrophy to cardiovascular disease.
Goffer, chief technology officer and president of the company, doesn’t yet have his own UPnRIDE because the sample models are for testing. He borrows one on weekends and for special events, such as his daughter’s wedding last July.
Like Adir, he was able to stand under the chuppah and with his family for photos.
“My son and middle daughter were already married years ago,” he said, “and it was a very different feeling at the wedding of my ‘baby’ because I was standing like the rest of the family. I was also able to mingle with guests as never before.”
Eventually, Goffer expects UPnRIDE to become his everyday wheelchair. “I enjoy it because I can stand and sit easily whenever I want; I don’t have to be moved and lifted by someone else. It can recline, too, so it’s better for napping or receiving medical treatment.”
The smart wheelchairs are to be manufactured in a northern Israel factory run by Sanmina, an American electronics manufacturing services provider. Tamari said the company plans to use proceeds from the current funding round for marketing, establishing mass production and developing advanced and new models.
Israel21c is a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org.
Best known for couture wedding gowns, Galia Lahav is one of the major players in the wave of Israeli designers making a mark on the international bridal industry. (photo from Instagram)
With fashion accessible at our fingertips via e-commerce, shopping apps and social media, the past few years have seen the rise of emerging designers from around the world. Along the way, a number of Israeli designers have won favour with the international fashion crowd, particularly celebrities and their stylists.
“I always say that talent has no geographical boundaries. If your vision is strong, the quality of your work is high and you know how to work with international markets, then your way to success is quick,” Israeli fashion blogger and Instagram influencer Roza Sinaysky told Israel21c.
Sinaysky, known on Instagram as @moodyroza, said she has seen a change in the Israeli fashion scene over the last two to three years, where more people are interested in fashion and willing to support young designers. The designers, she said, also are more aware of trends and the needs of the industry thanks to social media.
“The rise of social media made a huge difference in the fashion industry. For designers, it opened a lot of doors. When everyone can see your work, you never know who might reach out,” said Sinaysky.
Over the past few years, Israeli designers have been approached by Kensington Palace, Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Lady Gaga and many others to create custom pieces.
“I think it’s so great that Israel is recognized as a place of talents, not just technology. It makes me very proud to see local designers do so well abroad,” said Sinaysky.
Below are eight Israeli fashion and accessory designers making their mark internationally.
What do Beyoncé and Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai (who was just in Vancouver for a concert) have in common? They both wear Shahar Avnet. The young Israeli designer made headlines last year when her custom-made, nude-coloured tulle gown was worn by Beyoncé on stage during her world tour with Jay-Z.
Avnet also designed the multicoloured kimono famously worn by Barzilai on the cover of her hit song “Toy.”
“My garments are for confident women who are fearless, intelligent and chic; women who are not afraid to be the centre of attention and making a statement,” Avnet told Vogue Italy.
The Tel Aviv-based designer’s tulle creations walk the line between art and fashion, often combining techniques such as drawing, embroidery and collage into a single dress.
Avnet graduated from Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in 2016, receiving her first international exposure when her final project was chosen to represent the school at the International Catwalk during Graduate Fashion Week in London, England.
Avnet’s bold colours and unusual, feminine silhouettes have caught the attention of celebrity stylists and magazines. Other celebrities who have worn Avnet’s dresses include American actresses and singers Zendaya and Kelly Rowland, and members of the Israeli band A-WA.
Designer Maya Reik launched Marei1998 several seasons ago, almost immediately earning praise from the fashion world for her classic-modernist design sensibility – an unusually subdued approach for a designer her age (1998 refers to the year Reik was born).
Drawing upon Reik’s love for European cities and vintage nostalgia, Marei1998 offers a twist on classic luxury, reviving traditional styles like the robe coat and wrap dress. The brand’s claim to fame is its faux fur coats, which have become a celebrity-approved go-to for a sustainable statement. Last year, Marei1998’s eco-fur was spotted on model Bella Hadid and actress Priyanka Chopra.
Marei1998 has presented its collection in Milan the past few seasons and has had several successful trunk shows with online retailer Moda Operandi, which says “the young Israeli is living proof that elegance doesn’t come with age.”
A by Anabelle
Anabelle Tsitsin, the 26-year-old designer behind celebrity-approved shoe brand A by Anabelle, drew upon her background in fine arts to launch a collection of luxury footwear in 2016 that features unexpected and playful embellishments like crystals, feathers and fur. All the shoes are made of Italian leather and fabrics in Parabiago, a town just outside Milan known for its history of footwear craftsmanship.
The brand’s signature style features an architectural A-shaped heel, worn by celebrities like Victoria’s Secret model Josephine Skriver and actresses Katharine McPhee and Logan Browning. In 2017, Halle Berry wore A by Anabelle’s lace-up “starlette” shoes during an interview with Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen Show.
Although based in Israel, the brand has started to make its rounds on the international style scene and social media thanks to influencers and fashion bloggers like Maja Malnar, Camila Carril and Cristina Musacchio.
Israeli-born, New York-based designer Nili Lotan launched her namesake brand in 2003. The label, which revolves around timeless slip dresses, simple cargo pants and elevated basics, is tomboy meets luxury, making it a go-to for model-off-duty style.
Though Nili Lotan has been a mainstay in Tribeca since the store opened in 2006, it has been pushed toward the spotlight in the last several years thanks to an ever-expanding list of celebrity followers, like Gigi Hadid, Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kaia Gerber. The brand has been referred to as Hadid’s “wardrobe secret weapon” by Vogue, with frequent images of the model in Lotan’s designs flooding Instagram.
Best known for couture wedding gowns, Galia Lahav is one of the major players in the wave of Israeli designers making a mark on the international bridal industry.
Led by head designer Sharon Sever, the brand’s embellished, forward-thinking designs have been worn by Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Ciara, Jennifer Lopez and many others – Lahav made headlines when Beyoncé chose a dress from the label’s Victorian Affinity collection to renew her vows with husband Jay-Z. Another defining moment came when the designer created six custom-made, cream-coloured gowns for Williams’ wedding party.
Dresses from Lahav’s line of evening wear have made frequent red carpet appearances, with their plunging necklines and figure-hugging sequins adorning stars like model Shanina Shaik, actress Sarah Hyland and singers Ciara and Halsey.
While Alon Livne opened his Soho, N.Y., atelier and ready-to-wear showroom in 2017, he has been designing under the label Alon Livne since he founded his studio in Tel Aviv in 2010.
With three separate lines – bridal, evening and ready-to-wear – Livne has gained a following of international brides, celebrities and lovers of bold, fearless fashion.
Lady Gaga is among the brand’s A-list fans, having worn several custom gowns by Livne over the last years. His avant-garde, innovative designs have also been worn by Beyoncé, Nikki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Naomi Campbell and many others. One of his dresses made waves when it was worn by actor Johanna Mason in the film Mockingjay, part of the four-movie Hunger Games franchise.
Inbal Dror began designing wedding dresses in 2014, pioneering the style of the “red carpet bride,” with her glamorous, figure-hugging styles that were new to the bridal industry at the time.
Since then, the brand has dressed high-profile brides around the world. In 2017, Dror was contacted by the royal family about possibly making the wedding dress for Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry. Though the newly appointed Duchess of Sussex chose a different dress in the end, the famous inquiry solidified Dror as one of the biggest names in bridal.
Dror had previously dressed Beyoncé for the Grammys in 2016, proving that wedding dresses aren’t just for brides.
When Meghan Markle wore a silk Boss bodysuit by Israeli designer Tuxe for an evening out with Prince Harry in February 2018, the style was immediately backordered until May.
Tuxe was founded by Tamar Daniel, who was born in Jerusalem, raised in London, and graduated from the Shenkar College in Ramat Gan. She founded her Philadelphia-based bodywear line in 2015, focusing on transforming the bodysuit, once a 1990s staple, into a chic, modern garment.
Her collection includes a range of bodysuits with names like Boss, CEO, Pacesetter, Game Changer and Expert, and has become particularly popular with professionals and religious communities, Daniel told Vogue in an interview. Prices range from about $80 for a simple sleeveless bodysuit to $463 for a cashmere turtleneck version.
“We’ve been royally approved!” the brand posted on Instagram after Markle was photographed wearing the bodysuit. “We absolutely love Meghan for all she has done for women’s rights and are honoured to be worn by someone who encapsulates what we stand for as a brand. She uses her spotlight to be an inspiration and she definitely is to us!”
Israel21cis a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org.
Saturn’s main rings, along with its
moons, are much brighter than most stars. As a result, much shorter exposure
times (10 milliseconds, in this case) are required to produce an image and not
saturate the detectors of the imaging cameras on Cassini. A longer exposure
would be required to capture the stars as well. (photo from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space
Grand Finale was the official name of Cassini’s
last act: a risky orbit between Saturn’s rings and atmosphere in an attempt to
explore the planet up close, right before the craft went up in flames.
Prof. Yohai Kaspi and Dr. Eli Galanti of the Weizmann
Institute’s earth and planetary sciences department led one of the studies on
Cassini’s final mission, revealing the depth of Saturn’s jet streams – the
strongest measured in the solar system, with winds of up to 1,500 kilometres
per hour – and found them to reach a depth of around 9,000 kilometres. Teaming
up with research partners in Italy and the United States, their study also
helped reveal the age of the planet’s rings. The findings of these studies were
published this month in Science.
Cassini was one of the more successful
planetary missions, orbiting and returning information on Saturn and its moons
for the last 20 years. As the mission was approaching its end, it was decided
to end its life with a non-circular orbit swinging in very close to the planet,
followed by a final plunge into the gaseous mass. Kaspi and Galanti joined the
Cassini team following their work as part of NASA’s Juno science team, which
had employed a similar orbit to produce the most reliable measurements yet of
Jupiter’s atmospheric depth. The Cassini scientists thought it would be
possible to do the same for Saturn, and the Weizmann scientists were called in
to apply their methodology to the Saturn measurements.
Kaspi described the challenge: “We detect small
variations in the gravity field as the craft orbits Saturn, and translate these
into the atmospheric wind that produces them. There was no guarantee it would
work for Saturn, as the gravity signal on Saturn is more difficult to interpret
than what we had on Jupiter. We discovered that not only did it work for both
planets, but that same physical processes control the depth of the flows on
these two planets.”
To calculate the depth of the winds, the
gravity measurements undertaken by Cassini were analyzed with the theoretical
model developed by the Weizmann researchers. “We also teamed up with a second
group investigating the internal structure of the planet,” said Galanti.
“Together, we calculated that the depth of the atmosphere is up to around 9,000
kilometres. That is three times deeper than that of Jupiter. We also found
that, just as on Jupiter, a strong internal magnetic field is what limits the
depth of this layer of the atmosphere. Our theory worked twice, which provides
strong support for its validity.”
In the same study, the researchers analyzed the
Grand Finale data from Saturn’s rings, finding they are at most 100 million
years old. That is quite recent in the 4.5-billion-year history of the solar
system. The planet in the night sky at the time of the first dinosaurs was,
apparently, without the rings we know today.
New NASA research confirms that Saturn is
losing its iconic rings at the maximum rate estimated from Voyager 1 and 2
observations made decades ago. The rings are being pulled into Saturn by
gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn’s
“We estimate that this ‘ring rain’ drains an
amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from
Saturn’s rings in half an hour,” said James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space
Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Md. “From this alone, the entire ring system will be
gone in 300 million years, but add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured
ring-material detected falling into Saturn’s equator, and the rings have less
than 100 million years to live. This is relatively short, compared to Saturn’s
age of over four billion years.” O’Donoghue is lead author of a study on
Saturn’s ring rain appearing in Icarus Dec. 17.
Scientists have long wondered if Saturn was
formed with the rings or if the planet acquired them later in life. The new
research favours the latter scenario, indicating that they are unlikely to be
older than 100 million years, as it would take that long for the C-ring to
become what it is today assuming it was once as dense as the B-ring. “We are
lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the
middle of its lifetime. However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed
out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have
only thin ringlets today,” O’Donoghue added.
Various theories have been proposed for the ring’s
origin. If the planet got them later in life, the rings could have formed when
small, icy moons in orbit around Saturn collided, perhaps because their orbits
were perturbed by a gravitational tug from a passing asteroid or comet.
Several Vancouverites traveled to Siberia to see members of the Jewish community, which the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver helps support. (photo from Michael Moscovich)
Last September, a group of seven travelers
representing the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver set off on an
expedition to the far east of Siberia. Jews going to Siberia? Had to be a very
good reason. And there was.
For more than a decade, the Jewish Federation,
in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), has
been contributing to the support of Jews in need, wherever they may live in the
world. Federation’s Israel and overseas committee chose to help the closest
Jewish communities in abject poverty and those are in Siberia’s far east.
Khabarovsk is the main city in the area and Birobidzhan is the capital of the
Jewish republic, or oblast, of Russia. Jewish republic! Long story.
Khabarovsk is about the size of Winnipeg and
the winters are about the same, only a little colder – when we were there in
the fall, it was generally above 20°C. Birobidzhan has a population of only
about 75,000 and both cities are located by very large rivers. Each has a new
In Siberia, the younger people have jobs and
seem to do well, but the pensioners are lost. Their pensions may have been
adequate 20 years ago but the ruble has fallen to two cents. Their income is
maybe $20 to $40 a month. Their choice is to feed themselves, heat their home
or buy their medicines. Through the JDC, Federation makes it possible to do all
three by supplementing their monthly income. It also supports people with
disabilities who are unable to work.
I am a founding member of Federation and its
Israel and overseas committee, and have visited Jewish communities in Poland,
western Russia, Austria, Morocco and Cuba. No Vancouver representative had
visited our Siberian partners before to see what we’re helping to accomplish.
The trip was very rewarding. We saw signs of the rebirth of Siberian Jewish
Most of the people we met were not English
speakers, but we had enough interpreters that language was never a problem. We
were also bonded by Yiddishkeit, though the community had had no Jewish
education or ceremonies for decades, since Stalin decided to ban the Jewish
part of the Jewish republic. No one even spoke a word of Yiddish – this in a
place where there was a thriving Yiddish-based culture until the 1950s. But the
street signs in Birobidzhan are still written in Yiddish and there are other
symbols of Jewish life, such as a menorah on the monument at the train station.
During our visit, we joined in baking challot
and delivered them to elderly widows. Upon entering one home, our hostess
staggered and almost collapsed. Subsequently, whenever she looked at me she
blanched and teared up. I asked what was the matter and she said I looked so
much like her father it was like seeing a ghost. She showed me pictures of him
and, indeed, he was a handsome devil and doppelgänger.
There are maybe 15,000 Jews left in the area.
All have the option of relocating to Israel and most have. However, one guy
returned, as there was no ice fishing in Israel. Another returned as a Chabad
rabbi to lead the Birobidzhan congregation. A young woman came back to be with
her grandmother. So many stories.
The elderly spoke to us of the war and
survival. I asked what happens to the non-Jewish people in similar
circumstances with no outside support. They just died, was the reply. We are
truly saving lives.
Union for Reform Judaism will be
closing down their summer camp for teen leadership development: Kutz Camp, in
Warwick, N.Y. (photo from onehappycampernj.org)
It’s that time of year again – when it’s too
cold in Winnipeg sometimes to go to synagogue. For many folks, this never
happens! For others, they never intended to go in the first place. Others would
like to attend, but aren’t well enough to leave home when it’s frigid.
Once, my twins, age 2, wanted to go to a
Shabbat family service when the temperature was ridiculously cold. With wind
chill, it was below -40. We bundled them up, got outside (we don’t have a garage),
seat belted them in and, though the cars were plugged in, car #1 wouldn’t
Our hands were stiff with cold as we took off
our mitts, got the twins out of their car seats and into the other car, and
then? Car #2 wouldn’t start either. Dang.
We grabbed the kids, rushed back indoors, and
they screamed. No services. What would we do? We streamed a service from my
parents’ Virginia congregation online. The screaming stopped. The kids were
Sometimes, streaming services at home is the
only answer. However, it’s not the same as being there. No one knows whether
you stand up and sit down. And if you sing along? You’re all alone doing it. If
the streaming has a hiccup, well, I’ve been known to give up. (I’d only “give
up” in person if my kids disrupted things.)
So, it’s fair to say that technology offers
amazing benefits, but it’s not being there in the flesh. There are rabbinic
discussions on why streaming doesn’t fulfil certain mitzvot and, of course, it
certainly doesn’t abide by the traditional things you can “do” on Shabbat.
Why bring this up? I recently learned that the
Union for Reform Judaism will be closing down their summer camp for teen
leadership development: Kutz Camp, in Warwick, N.Y. In the press release
announcing its reluctant close, the Reform movement noted that, in its 54
years, the camp has been a living laboratory. Some of the best and most
innovative Reform Jewish experiences happen there. However, today’s teens seek
experiences closer to home, and at different times during the year.
As a camper for two years and a staff member
for one, Kutz offered me the opportunity both to learn a marketable skill and
to wrestle deeply with Jewish music, texts and tradition. The marketable skill,
song leading, allowed me to earn money teaching music at summer camps, at
religious schools and in adult education classes for years. It helped cover
expenses during my undergraduate and graduate degrees. It offered me a great
deal of joy and spiritual meaning. I helped create kid communities who sang
their way right through services together.
I also joined a program called Torah Corps,
which allowed me to study and learn Torah and commentary every camp day with
other similarly motivated teenagers. It was a meaningful endeavour, and it gave
me an opportunity to feel less alone about my passion for both Jewish text and
The people who attended Kutz Camp over the
years went on to be real leaders, not just in their congregations, but also in
the larger Jewish community and beyond. Every so often, I hear a name pop up
and I remember someone from summer camp. These are people who make change in
the world far beyond a single summer experience. For instance, Debbie Friedman
(z”l), the famous song leader and Jewish musician, got her start at Kutz Camp.
Dr. Andy Rehfeld, the newly appointed president
for the Reform movement’s seminary and graduate school, HUC-JIR, was an admired
mentor and song leader of mine at Kutz Camp. For years, I toted around cassette
tapes that recorded the entire NFTY Chordster, an encyclopedic “real
book” for Reform Jewish song leaders. I used a Walkman, boom box and car
stereo. I learned every single melody that Andy sang into that recording.
When I Googled Andy’s name, three or four other
names from camp popped up – all are now rabbis, cantors, educators or other
leaders. Kutz Camp was an incubator. It attracted teenagers from all over the
United States, Canada, England, Israel and elsewhere. Through Kutz Camp, I had
contacts all over the continent (and beyond) for quite awhile. When I went far
away from home to attend Cornell University in upstate New York, I wasn’t
alone! I went with several dear friends from camp.
I’m sad that Kutz Camp will close. It’s sited
in a beautiful place, though the buildings were falling down even when I was
there, around 30 years ago. However, just as online streaming has changed our
options when it comes to attending services or Jewish learning online, it has
also taken away the need for some families to send their kids away to camp.
But those face-to-face leadership incubators –
Jewish summer camps – are priceless. I met people from all over the world at
Kutz, just as I knew teenagers who did the same at USY, Habonim Dror and other
We give up some things when we stay home. Maybe
it’s the casual exchanges at shul that we miss. Or that we can’t hear everyone
singing harmonies around us in the Kutz Camp congregation. Or perhaps it’s
missing a lifelong friendship or even a spouse you might have met at camp.
Sometimes, it’s just better to be there in person. (Assuming your car will
Joanne Seiffhas written for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. See more about her at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.