Nanopores taken from ancient pottery have allowed researchers to make beer following a 5,000-year-old recipe. (photo by Yaniv Berman IAA via Ashernet)
Research led by scholars at Hebrew University, the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University has revealed a way to isolate yeast from ancient pottery, from which beer was then produced. HU’s Dr. Ronen Hazan and IAA’s Dr. Yitzhak Paz, who are among the leaders of the research, noted that “we now know what Philistine and Egyptian beers tasted like.” The team examined the colonies of yeast that formed and settled in the pottery’s nanopores. Ultimately, they were able to use resurrected yeast to create a beer that’s approximately 5,000 years old.
“By the way, the beer isn’t bad,” said Hazan. “Aside from the gimmick of drinking beer from the time of King Pharaoh, this research is extremely important to the field of experimental archeology – a field that seeks to reconstruct the past. Our research offers new tools to examine ancient methods and enables us to taste the flavours of the past.”
Added Paz, “This is the first time we succeeded in producing ancient alcohol from ancient yeast. In other words, from the original substances from which alcohol was produced. This has never been done before.”
ישראלים המבקשים לברר פרטים על הליך קבלת תושבות קנדית, נתקלו בנציגי חברת פרו איי.סי.סי שניסו להונות אותם. כך נטען בכתבה במדור הכלכלי של עיתון הארץ – דה מארקר. עוד נטען בכתבה כי נציגי החברה טוענים שהם עוזרים בבקשות לתושבות מטעם שגרירות קנדה, ומוכנים לעזור לישראלים אם ישלמו חמש מאות ושמונים דולר, ויעבירו להם את פרטי כרטיס האשראי שלהם. משגרירות קנדה בתל אביב נמסר בתגובה כי לחברת פרו איי.סי. סי אין קשר למשרד ההגירה, פליטים ואזרחות, וממשלת קנדה רואה בחומרה כל ניסיון להונות בתחום האזרחות או ההגירה. אם מישהו מציג עצמו כנציג השגרירות או משרד ההגירה ומציע מעמד הגירה או אזרחות בטלפון זו הונאה. מחברת פרו איי.סי.סי לא נמסרה תגובה לעיתון הישראלי.
בשבועות האחרונים מופיעה מודעה בפייסבוק מטעם פרו איי.סי.סי ובה ההצעה לבדוק זכאות לאזרחות קנדית. ישראלים שנכנסים ללינק מקבלים לאחר זמן קצר שיחה טלפונית, המוצגת באפליקציות לזיהוי שיחה כשיחה משגרירות קנדה, ובה אדם המציג עצמו כעובד שם ומסביר את המשמעות של הגשת בקשה לתושבות. עיתונאית דה מארקר השאירה את פרטיה באתר החברה ונציגה התקשר אליה. הוא הציג עצמו בשם וויליאם סאנלי עובד פרו איי.סי.סי, מבלי לציין שהחברה אינה שייכת לשגרירות קנדה. סאנלי פירט את ההיתרונות בהגירה לקנדה, מערכת הבריאות המתקדמת, לימודים בחינם, עזרה בפתיחת עסק ועוד.
לשאלת הכתבת מדוע נוקטת השגרירות הקנדית בגישה פרו-אקטיבית ומגייסת אנשים ממדינות אחרות לעבור אליה, טען סאנלי, כי קנדה מבקשת להגדיל את האוכלוסייה במדינה ומקבלת בכל חודש שבעה עשר אלף תושבים חדשים, העונים על דרישות מסוימות. בהן: גיל, רמת השכלה, ניסיון תעסוקתי ואנגלית ברמה גבוהה. לאחר שהכתבת ענתה על מספר שאלות סאנלי הודיע לה כי היא עומדת בדרישות, ועליה למלא טופס שישלח אליה דרך האימייל, ולשלם מייד חמש מאות ושמונים דולר. סאנלי הפעיל לחץ על הכתבת והודיע לה כי התחיל כבר בהליך הרישום שלה, ואם היא תעצור אותו, היא תאלץ להמתין כשנה, עד שתוכל להגיש בקשה חדשה. לדברי סאנלי אם הכתבת לא תפעל מייד להגשת הבקשה להגירה היא תסומן על ידי השגרירות, ולכן תאלץ להמתין שנה תמימה להגשת בקשה חדשה.
בשגרירות קנדה בתל אביב מסרו כי הם פתחו בבדיקה בנושא פעילות חברת פרו איי. סי.סי. בשגרירות ביקשו לציין כי אלה המבקשים להגר למדינה נוטים לעתים קרובות להסתמך על יועצי הגירה, שיעזרו להם לטפל בנושא. עם זאת הם עלולים ליפול לידי נוכלים. ממשלת קנדה החליטה להשקיע השנה מיליוני דולרים, כדי להגן על האזרחים והמועמדים להגירה, כדי שלא יפלו במלכודות של הנוכלים. עוד נמסר כי משרד ההגירה לא מעניק יחס מיוחד למי שפועל להגר באמצעות יועץ, וזה לא מבטיח להם דבר. כל הטפסים הנחוצים להגירה נמצאים באתר משרד ההגירה ואפשר להוריד אותם ללא תשלום. גם רשימת יועצי ההגירה החוקיים נמצאים באתר. אגב חברת פרו איי.סי.סי לא נמצאת ברשימת היועצים המוסמכים לטפל בהגירה לקנדה.
בדקתי את האתר של פרו איי.סי.סי ומצאתי שמשרדי החברה ממקומים ברחוב הייסטינג 1021 בוונקובר. פרו איי.סי.סי מציגה עצמה כחברה מובילה עם רקורד מוכח בתחום ההגירה, והבאת מהגרים לקנדה מכל העולם. מהגרים שהם אנשי מקצוע מיומנים, אנשי עסקים, סטודנטים וחברי משפחה. בחברה מציינים עוד כי הם ליוו כבר אלפים שהגרו לקנדה. בדף החברה בפייסבוק מפורסם כי יש לה כששת אלפים וחמש מאות “לייקס”.
The Eurovision Song Contest, like the World Cup, is one of those cultural phenomena that seems to enrapture huge swaths of the world while North Americans observe it dispassionately, if at all, wondering what it’s all about.
For Jewish North Americans, the annual international songfest gained attention last year and this year for the 2018 Israeli victory by performer Netta Barzilai, a victory that comes with the privilege of hosting the next contest. So it was that the world descended on Tel Aviv last week for the 2019 edition.
Commentary on social media was polarized. Anti-Israel activists called for a boycott of the event, while Israelis and Zionists (as well as tourists who are as attuned to Israel-Palestine politics as most of us are to the nuances of Eurovision or the World Cup) posted photos of a rapturous Mediterranean seaside celebration.
Calls to boycott one of the world’s most watched cultural events because it takes place in Israel represent a continuing effort to portray Israel as a nation apart from the rest, an untouchable among countries. To make this approach make sense, Israel has to be recast to fit the narrative. Notably, there was no serious discussion of a boycott when Eurovision was hosted by Russia, an autocracy guilty of terrible crimes and oppression.
For all its bluster and online ubiquity, the boycott-Israel movement has largely been a failure on the surface. Last week, activists called for a boycott of Israeli wines and, in response, there was a run on Israeli wines at Vancouver-area liquor stores. Similar campaigns have regularly produced far more sizzle than steak, with counter buycotts negating any large impacts that the boycotts might inflict.
What the BDS movement does successfully, though, is solidify in the minds of uninformed or unengaged people the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be blamed on one party. If peace, justice and coexistence were the real aim of the movement, they might choose to call out injustices and corruption by the Hamas and Fatah rulers in Palestine alongside wrongs perpetrated by the Israeli government and military. Indeed, boycotts need not have any actual economic success in order to succeed at planting a narrative – a fact the BDS movement has seized upon.
Meanwhile, there has been outrage from supporters of the BDS movement in response to legislative moves to block anti-Israel boycotts. The German Bundestag recently passed a resolution condemning BDS as antisemitic and calling it redolent of Nazi-era boycotts. Activists have responded with a classic goose/gander dichotomy, seemingly demanding the right to boycott while incensed that anyone might boycott them back.
As we have written in this space previously, legislative punishments for boycotting Israel, which have also been passed by many U.S. states, may come from the right philosophical place, but we’d prefer to see the basis of the movement countered intellectually, rather than with the blunt force – and unintended consequences – of these laws.
Ultimately, the message we should take from the Eurovision experience and the broader BDS movement is that misrepresentations must be met with truth, even if that seems like a Sisyphean effort. More specifically, the boycotts should be met with a forceful response that not only declares our opposition to the boycott itself. We must also loudly proclaim that the underlying assertion of unilateral Israeli guilt for this seven-decade conflict is a false premise upon which the entire BDS cause rests. Of course, Israel has responsibilities in the goal of a lasting peace, but so do Palestinians, a fact that BDS supporters and much of the world refuse to acknowledge.
Eurovision organizers tried unsuccessfully to keep politics out of the competition but they came anyway. The supposed controversies did nothing to detract from the “big show” and, in fact, could be said to have highlighted the complex entity that is Israel and its capacity to embrace diverse views.
While Israel’s entrant, Kobi Marimi, didn’t fare very well – coming in 23rd of 26 entrants – he gave an emotional performance, finishing his song “Home” with tears. He later told reporters, “I don’t have words to explain how much I love this country, and how proud I am for myself and my team.” We’re pretty proud, too.
The new show at Zack Gallery, #SeasonsAtZack features Instagram artists. A fundraiser for the gallery, the exhibit is extremely eclectic.
“The theme of the show is based on the theme of Festival Ha’Rikud, ‘Seasons of Israel,’” said Daniel Wajsman, marketing coordinator at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. “Every year, the gallery has a group show to coincide with the festival and the artists submit their paintings to the gallery. This year, we thought: why don’t we do social media instead? These days, everyone has a camera…. We all take pictures with our phones and share them with friends and family. This is one step further. Why can’t we share our photos with everyone? That’s what Instagram does – it is a site where we share our images with the world. That’s what we aimed for in this show at the Zack. We wanted to change the concept of what art is.”
The gallery started with the idea that only artists who have an Instagram account would be featured in the exhibit, but later opened the submission process to everyone, said Wajsman. All of the images from the show will be on the JCC’s Instagram page and prints will be available for purchase in different sizes and formats.
About a third of the photos in the exhibit come from a select group of people: staff members of several Jewish organizations, who went to Israel in April for a professional seminar. The organizations participating in the seminar were the JCC, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Jewish Family Services, Louis Brier Home and Hospital, Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and Nava Creative Kosher Cuisine.
“We work closely together, but we don’t all know each other,” said Wajsman. “Some of us are Jewish, and some are not. The seminar had a double goal: to teach us about Israel and Jewish history and to connect us with each other.”
Regular visitors to the Zack Gallery will be familiar with many of the photographers in the exhibit. Some of the photos are by artists who have exhibited previously at the gallery – like Lauren Morris, Michael Abelman and others – and submitted photographs of their paintings for the show.
Another set of participants includes local masters of photography, such as Jocelyne Hallé, Judy Angel and Ivor Levin. Each one has more than one of their images on display.
Halle’s “Sunflowers” photo was taken recently. The bright sunny heads of the large flowers contrast sharply with the heavy stormy clouds overhead, and the juxtaposition evokes strong emotions. “It wasn’t Photoshopped at all,” said Hallé. “It’s just the way I took it.”
In contrast, Angel’s airy images glow and shimmer with transparent sunlight. They are so light, they seem translucent, able to fly off the wall like magical butterflies.
Beside them, Levin’s photos look like drawings, their colour schemes and compositions inspired by the rains and umbrellas of the autumn season in Vancouver.
New artists also have a strong presence in this show. For them, having their names under their art on the gallery walls is a fascinating experience. One of this crowd is Linda Lando, the Zack Gallery director. “I’m not an artist,” she said. “I’ve never displayed anything before.”
One of her photos, the colourful “Ein Gedi Night,” was taken on her trip to Israel, as a member of the seminar. “We visited Kibbutz Ein Gedi late at night,” she said. “It is a beautiful floral oasis in the desert. They have amazing flowers, and this blooming tree was near the entrance.”
Robert Johnson, also part of the seminar and a longtime JCC employee, has a couple of his photos in the show. One of them is particularly memorable: a photo of a camel with a sad expression, lying under a tree. The title of the photograph is “This is Not a Camel.”
“He talked to me,” Johnson said with a smile. “People were riding him all day, and he didn’t want to be a riding camel anymore.”
The variety of the images in the show is mind-blowing: from Israeli landscapes to mud bathers on the shore of the Dead Sea to abstract composition. #SeasonsAtZack continues until June 9.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Elad Pelleg and his grandmother, Dvora. Pelleg shared his family’s story during the community’s Yom Hazikaron ceremony May 7. (photo from Elad Pelleg)
The sacrifices Israeli families have made for 71 years were marked in Vancouver last week during Yom Hazikaron ceremonies. The tragic losses of life in wars, intifadas and terror attacks were memorialized by hundreds of attendees at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver May 7.
The annual ceremony, led by Geoffrey Druker, specifically acknowledges family members and friends of local community members who have died defending Israel. The impacts of the losses were individualized through the stories of particular families, including numerous who lost more than one member, often across generations and in different wars.
Elad Pelleg, the Dror Israel youth movement shaliach (emissary) to Camp Miriam, shared the story of his grandmother, Dvora Pelleg, a narrative of Zionist longing, loss and rededication.
Dvora was born in Hungary, in 1921, the second daughter in an Orthodox family of seven children.
“As a teenager, she joined a Zionist youth movement, where she discovered a new world, and a new yearning was born: to live in the land of Israel,” her grandson told the audience in the Wosk Auditorium.
He recounted the story as his grandmother had told it to him: “One day, we were invited to see a movie about the chalutzim (pioneers) … I asked my mother to join me, to see for herself what Zionism was all about, and understand my dream of moving there. She came from a very Orthodox family. This was not an easy request for her to fulfil. She deliberated and, in order not to disappoint me, decided to come. She did not want to be recognized, so she disguised herself and joined me for the movie. At a time when antisemitism was rampant, seeing a movie that showed the freedom and spirit of living in the land of Israel brought her to tears.”
Dvora went on to become a Zionist youth leader and received additional training, hachshara, in preparation for aliyah to the land of Israel.
“In the hachshara, she met my grandfather, Yosef,” Pelleg said. “In 1939, the war broke out and their lives changed completely. My grandparents, Dvora and Yosef, decided to move to the capital, Budapest, in an attempt to migrate to Israel illegally. They failed to make this journey, stayed in Budapest and got married in 1942. On the 22nd of August, 1943, their son Michael was born.”
When the Nazis invaded Hungary, Yosef was sent to a labour camp, while Dvora fought to survive with baby Michael.
“She had to keep moving between cellars and attics; she suffered from hunger, and ended up surviving only due to her tremendous effort,” said Pelleg. “My grandfather survived a number of labour camps and a death march. After the war, he returned to Budapest to reunite with my grandmother and Michael.”
Dvora lost her parents, Hanna and Yitzchak, as well as three siblings, all murdered in Auschwitz.
“The only thing left from her mother is a single photo she carried on her throughout the war,” Pelleg said. “Being refugees in their own country, they sought a way to Eretz Israel. In 1947, they boarded an unauthorized ship, Geula, with many other Holocaust survivors. The British, who at that time governed the land of Israel, stopped the ship and sent them to an internment camp in Cyprus, where they were held for almost a year.
“It was there, behind barbed wire, that they heard [about] the establishment of the state of Israel, on May 15, 1948,” Pelleg said. “Later that year, they finally made it to Israel, where two sons were born: Shimon and my father, Eli.” The couple Hebraized their named to Pelleg from Pollock when they began working for the Israeli government.
Michael grew up in Israel, graduated high school with honours and served in the army as a combat medic. Following his army service, he enrolled in university and studied accounting. In 1966, he married the love of his life, Ester.
“In 1967, the Six Day War broke out,” Pelleg recounted. “Michael did not receive an army call-up, but his heart commanded him to pack a bag and join his unit. Before leaving the house for the last time in his life, he said to his mother, ‘I can’t stay in the classroom while the army is fighting to defend our country.’
“When he reached his unit, he found that they already had a medic in place, yet he insisted on joining them anyway. On the first day of the war, June 5, 1967, in a fierce battle on the outskirts of Rafiah, his armoured vehicle was hit. Michael Pollock, the uncle I never met, was killed.
“My grandmother had to bear the heavy burden on her shoulders and in her soul, of not only being a Holocaust survivor, but also a bereaved mother. Her family was murdered on European soil and her son died in battle in Israel and, this time, she could not save him.
“When I was born, my parents gave me the middle name Michael, in his memory,” said Pelleg. “Being my grandmother’s first grandson, we have a very special connection and she is a very significant figure in my life. As a child, visiting her in her house, I would ask her many questions: about her family, about the events of the Holocaust, about Michael and why he died in the war. Slowly and with great difficulty, she opened up and shared with me her story, the story of our family.”
When Pelleg was 13, the year of his bar mitzvah, he started participating in Yom Hazikaron memorial ceremonies with his family, and described a typical commemoration.
“We start in the evening with a ceremony at Beit Yad L’Banim, the memorial home for fallen soldiers, in the city of Ramat Gan,” he said. “In the ceremony, they read the names of all the fallen soldiers of the city, sing a few songs and read passages about mourning, bereavement and love that will never be fulfilled. When Michael’s name is called, we light a candle in his memory and listen quietly to Savta crying softly at the end of the row.
“On Yom Hazikaron, the following morning, we meet at the military cemetery at Kiriyat shul. There are thousands of graves there and, around each one of them, a family like mine gathers. We all stand together and listen to the chazzan recite El Maleh Rachamim.”
Despite all this, Pelleg said his grandmother’s story is not only a story of mourning and bereavement but also of strength and resilience.
“In memory of their son, my grandparents decided to dedicate the rest of their lives in service of the state of Israel,” he said. “My grandfather worked first as a civilian in the army, and then in the Ministry of Defence. My grandmother worked in the Mossad, the national intelligence agency, until she retired. After my grandfather passed away, she chose to volunteer at a nonprofit called Yad Sarah, which provides medical equipment for those in need.”
Now 98 years old, Dvora is no longer able to attend the memorial ceremonies. On her 90th birthday, Pelleg told her: “Your life shapes my identity, my choices in life, and is expressed through my middle name, Michael, which I carry proudly.”
The JCC Choir, led by Noa Cohen, as well as Ellen Silverman on piano and Kinneret Sieradzky on violin, provided musical tributes. Rabbi Shlomo Gabay chanted El Maleh Rachamim. Rabbi Philip Gibbs said Kaddish. If’at Eilon-Heiber lit a yahrzeit candle for her friend Yaacov Koma and Samuel Heller lit a candle for his friend Adero Ahonim. Yoni Rechter, who was the featured performer at the next night’s celebration of Israel’s independence day, sang his hit song “Tears of Angels.” The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
Druker marked the end of Yom Hazikaron at the Chan Centre just prior to the beginning of the community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. The festivities opened with the singing of O Canada and Hatikvah by the King David High School Choir, directed by Johnny Seguin, and included remarks by Karen James, Candace Kwinter and this year’s shinshinim (volunteer emissaries) from Israel, Or Aharoni and Ofir Gady, as well as a video of greetings from previous shinshinim and a call for hosts for next year’s volunteers. The JCC’s Orr Chadash and Orr Atid dancers, under the leadership of Noga Vieman, performed, as did the Juice Band, before Rechter and his fellow musicians took to the stage. The annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration is presented by Jewish Federation, with hotel sponsor Georgian Court, media sponsor Jewish Independent and 45 other community partners. For an interview with Rechter, see jewishindependent.ca/israeli-music-icon-sings-here.
Given two recent murderous attacks on American synagogues, combined with terrorist missiles from Gaza landing throughout southern and central Israel, it is easy and understandable to be pessimistic. But a new study on Jews in Canada is jam-packed with reasons for optimism.
The report 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada was released recently. Produced by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, the University of Toronto and York University, the study was funded by Federation CJA and other Jewish communal organizations. To those who have followed these subjects closely, the data are not completely surprising but, brought together in a single document, it is quite a compendium of encouragement.
Inspired by a groundbreaking 2013 Pew Research Centre study on American Jewry, the report assesses a wide range of factors, including the importance of Jewishness in the lives of respondents, how they define that identity, membership in synagogues and Jewish organizations, financial support for Jewish causes, candlelighting and other religious observances, intermarriage, experiences with discrimination, connections to Israel, dedication to repairing the world, migration patterns and even federal political party support.
Perhaps because of its inspiration in the American example, the study routinely compares Canadian findings with the situation to the south. This is fair, given the useful contrasts it provides – and it is especially illuminating to see that many of the differences between the Jewish communities in the two countries paint a very positive picture of the Canadian situation.
Only half of American Jews have made a financial donation to a Jewish organization or cause, compared with 80% of Canadian Jews.
Canadian Jewish kids are twice as likely to attend a Jewish day school or yeshivah and a greater proportion of Canadian Jews have attended Sunday school, Hebrew school or an overnight Jewish summer camp. The number of Canadian Jews who are bar or bat mitzvah is higher than that of Americans – 60% versus 50%. Intermarriage rates in the United States are about 50%, compared with 23% in Canada.
Canadian Jews have a much stronger connection to Israel than American Jews, with twice the likelihood of having visited the country. Nevertheless, Canadians and Americans “are similarly divided in their opinions about the political situation in Israel,” according to the report.
Rudimentary Hebrew is common among the vast majority of Canadian Jews, with 75% saying they know the aleph-bet and 40% claiming to be able to have a conversation in the language. Among the groups with the greatest proficiency in Hebrew are those under 30 years of age. These numbers are significantly higher than those of our American cousins.
Among Jewish Canadians, 64% say that being Jewish is very important in their lives, compared with 46% of Americans, while only 8% of Canadian Jews say being Jewish is not very, or not at all, important, compared with 20% of American Jews.
An astonishing 80% of Canadian Jews (or, at least, respondents to the survey) indicate an educational attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 29% of the general population. Similar findings two decades ago led to a major investment by Jewish communal bodies in youth-serving agencies like Hillel, which was seen as the last, best hope for reaching unaffiliated young Jews. As these numbers suggest, while many other aspects of Jewish identity may be discarded or de-emphasized, the commitment to education is among the most effectively transmitted values from generation to generation.
Among Canadian Jews, 47% belong to a Jewish communal organization other than a synagogue, compared with 18% for Jewish Americans. (In Winnipeg, this number is 57%, which helps explain why that comparatively small Jewish community is so impressively active.)
The report does not provide definitive explanations for the differences, though different factors are suggested to play a role in various scenarios. If we were to posit an overarching theory about the differences between American and Canadian Jews, it would go back to the 20th century’s very different experiences. The Canadian Jewish community was massively influenced by postwar immigration, including survivors of the Holocaust. These newcomers remade the Canadian Jewish community, to some extent, in their own image. The American Jewish community, in comparison, was already strong and had well-developed infrastructures before the
influx of survivors and other immigrants after 1945. As the report indicates, Canada also has a different approach to multiple identities, with multiculturalism being officially celebrated, whereas the American trend is to downplay difference and assume a unified Americanism.
Of course, there is no prize for being “better” Jews than our fellows from another country – even if it does satisfy our innate Canadian need to differentiate ourselves from Americans. Nonetheless, in a world with so many challenges, where is the harm in celebrating good news?
Jewish people worldwide are in a time of challenge and change. Many European Jews are questioning their futures there, and communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia are experiencing a range of external and internal challenges, including changing relationships with Israel and with the rest of the Diaspora. Some of the factors that account for the positive news in the recent report are distinctively Canadian and cannot be replicated. But the study deserves a closer look by all Diaspora Jewish communities to see if there are successes that could be replicated elsewhere. We sometimes like to flatter ourselves by declaring “the world needs more Canada.” So might the Jewish Diaspora.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu places a wreath at Yad Vashem on Yom Hashoah. (photo from IGPO via Ashernet)
On Yom Hashoah, Israel comes to a virtual standstill at 11 a.m., for two minutes, as sirens wail across the country – everyone stops what they are doing and stands at attention, in respect to the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Ety Siton, left, director of the Kfar Saba branch of ERAN, also oversees the Toronto volunteers. She is pictured with Sigal Almog, co-founder of Toronto’s ERAN project. (photo from ERAN)
Finding enough volunteers in Israel for the night shift of the country’s emotional crisis hotline, ERAN, proved difficult. So, its chief executive director, David Koren, came up with the idea of looking for Israeli volunteers living in North America to help cover this time period.
ERAN is a confidential service, offered over the phone or the internet, which provides free, anonymous emotional support to people in Israel of all ages, in Hebrew, Russian, Arabic and English.
Sigal Almog and Galya Sarner, both former Israelis living in Toronto, were at a conference in Washington, D.C., in 2017 when they heard of Koren’s mission. They sent out a call for volunteers through their network, and further recruited two social workers, Anat Gonen and Sabina Mezhibovsky, to co-found and open a chapter of ERAN in Toronto last year.
“Right now, in Toronto, we have 16 volunteers,” Gonen told the Independent, adding, “We have around 85 volunteers in the four North American branches. I think they are answering, each month, around 800 calls. So, that is 800 calls that, before we had those volunteers in North America, were unanswered, because nobody was there at night.”
“Just think about the message behind it,” said Sarner. “It’s unbelievable, probably saving the lives of so many in need who couldn’t get help, because not enough volunteers were there to give them the minimum support they were asking for.”
All four Toronto co-founders knew of the ERAN helpline prior to becoming involved with it in Canada, though none had used it themselves.
“ERAN is part of daily life in Israel,” said Sarner. “It’s a very distinguished project and, when we heard from Koren that he was looking to expand his global networking and to work with the North American community, we didn’t think twice. We knew we’d do whatever it took to launch the branch of ERAN in Toronto.”
Almog, who was also at the 2017 conference, recognized that this was a great opportunity to connect with and help people in Israel from Toronto. Nearly 80 former Israelis came to the initial information session in the city and, after screening them all, the branch accepted around 20 volunteers, who went on to get special training from ERAN and then started taking calls from Israel.
Volunteers do not need to have any particular degree, but they do need to possess specific skills.
“You need to be able to have some kind of empathy and self-awareness to know how to listen, [and to] understand and have a conversation in Hebrew, Russian, Arabic or English,” said Gonen. “One of the things we also found to be a struggle is that some of the people, especially those who’ve been here many, many years, can’t write in Hebrew. This is also a requirement, as they need to write a report in Hebrew. But, mostly what we need are people who are able to listen, to try not to give advice, and to be able to commit to the process,” to take a number of shifts per month.
“Whenever a volunteer answers the phone, they are told to say, ‘Eran, Shalom’ … keeping it very neutral, as, for some people on the line, it’s not a great evening…. It actually can be a pretty bad one,” said Sarner.
When a person in an emotional crisis dials 1201 from anywhere in Israel, they will be connected to a trained volunteer, who will try to direct them to those who can best help them; for example, a soldier with another soldier, or a Holocaust survivor with someone knowledgeable about the issues survivors face.
North American volunteers are taking shifts between 5 and 9 p.m., and 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., EST. Each volunteer signs into the ERAN system from their own computer and takes calls in their home.
“They have to be at home, because they have to be in a quiet room, a closed room, so nobody can hear the conversation they’re having and nobody interferes with what they say,” said Gonen.
Though the volunteers are in Toronto, they are trained to keep that fact out of the conversation. This way, explained Gonen, the caller is more likely to feel comfortable with them, thinking they are in Israel and able to identify with their struggle.
Running the Toronto chapter has been challenging, as the branch does not receive financial support from ERAN Israel or from the Toronto Jewish community. But, they have received some support from private donors and the Schwartz/Reisman Centre (in Vaughan, Ont.) provides space for ERAN volunteer training.
“We don’t have any kind of money that comes from ERAN Israel and everything we do here we pay for from our own pockets,” said Gonen. “The training … Sabina and I are volunteering to do every month. And, when we meet, all four of us will bring snacks for the meeting or things like that, because we want to make sure people feel appreciated for doing this. So, we’re looking for donations to help us run the branch.”
“We’re looking to expand support from our sponsors, because we did receive very touching sponsorships, mainly in the beginning, during the time of the initial training,” said Sarner. “But, in terms of the monthly meeting, it takes place at Schwartz/Reisman JCC. We’re very lucky to have the support of the JCC, but we definitely need to expand and find more sponsors and donors.”
The feeling shared by the co-founders and volunteers is that of gratitude to be able to have a direct impact on the lives of Israelis in Israel.
“We give a lot to ERAN,” said Almog. “We work many volunteer hours, but I feel like each one of the volunteers gets so much out of it. It’s brought a lot of meaning to our lives here, as Israelis who live outside of Israel.
“The volunteers just told us last week, someone who went to Florida and didn’t participate in the last training, that she really missed ERAN. It has become very meaningful in the lives of each one of us.”
“Anything you do in life,” Sarner added, “you have to do with love – with love and respect – and the respect we have among the four of us, it means so much to me. In Toronto, from the volunteers to the sponsors and the support of the community at large, it makes it even more meaningful to me. It has touched my heart and soul to be part of such an important initiative.”
Charleen Glaun, centre, receives her certificate of service from Sar-El from madrichot Inbar, left, and Carmel. Glaun hopes to volunteer with Sar-El annually from here on out. (photo from Charleen Glaun)
At last, I was on the plane to Israel. Was this really happening? I had waited so long for this day and, here I was, after 32 years, finally returning.
Arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, I proceeded through the security check-in. The first question asked of me was, “What is the purpose of your trip?”
“I’m coming on Sar-El,” I replied.
“What is Sar-El?” the security person asked.
“Volunteers for Israel,” I said, a little surprised he did not know about Sar-El.
I waited for his reaction, but there was silence. I blurted out, “I’ve been away for 32 years and this is my first trip back.”
He looked up from examining my passport and said, “What took you so long? Welcome back!”
I smiled and said to myself, “This is going to be the best adventure of my life! Thank you, G-d, for getting me here safely.”
Once I had my luggage, I found the sunglass stand where volunteers typically meet, and found Sar-El’s facilitator, Pam Lazarus, an expat who made aliyah 17 years ago. Since its founding in 1987 by General Aharon Davidi, volunteers come from around the globe for one- to three-week stints on an army base. Qualifications include a love of Israel, being of sound mind, having a clean bill of health, being physically fit and able to carry your own luggage. You do not have to be Jewish. There is a registration fee and the volunteer is responsible for the cost of the flight to Israel. While on the base, each person is assigned a room, which they will typically share with one or more people, and is given three meals a day. Some bases will even organize a free day trip to somewhere of interest, but individuals must fill their own weekends.
I was assigned to a medical supply base near Tel Aviv. This base does not have soldiers on it but rather reservists and full-time employees.
When I arrived at the base, I was given my army uniform. The correct size is not high on the priority list, I discovered. I spent the next three weeks in a very roomy pair of pants, which I held up with a belt, a khaki T-shirt and shirt, and an army jacket. I felt so proud wearing this uniform!
Army-issue clothing in hand, it was time to see where I was going to live for the next while. I had a roommate for my first four days, but had the space to myself for the remainder of my stay. Women are housed on the upper level of a two-storey building. Both floors have a washing machine. (Apparently, this is quite a luxury and not the norm.) All rooms have an air-conditioning/heating system and basic storage units. Three shower stalls delivered hot water at all times. I was at the Hilton of army bases! (I found out from my representative in Toronto that the living quarters on the base were newly renovated.)
A typical day is as follows. Breakfast in the main dining room is at 7:15 a.m. At 7:45 a.m., we meet up with our 19-year-old madrichot (supervisors) in the courtyard for the raising of the flag and the singing of the national anthem, and we get news from within Israel and abroad. Then, it is off to work until midday, when we make our way to the dining hall for lunch.
This base is the main military medical base in Israel and also the primary depot. Every 18 months, medical military units drop off complete medical supplies. They then pick up new and replenished supplies for the next 18 months, which are divided between bases. Medical supplies with expiry dates between six and 18 months are used first in hospitals and emergency rooms, while supplies with a six-month expiry date are used for training purposes and donations to developing countries. Medical kits are made up for many applications, such as atomic and biological chemical kits, combat doctors, and combat medics.
I had a great boss, Israel, who patiently explained exactly how to do things. Israel is a Bukharian Jew, a first-generation Sabra. He never stopped thanking us for our service, as did many Israelis I met off the base. They are grateful for the volunteers’ service. This, in turn, was so gratifying for us, knowing we were making a difference by giving back just a little to the country. It was an even better feeling when medical backpacks were returned to us with medical supplies unused.
The workday ends at 4 p.m., when volunteers are free to do whatever they like within the confines of the base. They are not at liberty to leave it, other than at the end of the workweek. Dinners are eaten early. Thereafter, the madrichot hold discussion groups or show movies. By 9 p.m., most people are ready for bed.
Weekends, volunteers may go anywhere in Israel, as long as we are at Tel Aviv’s main train station on the Sunday morning at 9:30, when we are taken back to our base. At present, there is a hostel in Tel Aviv specifically for Sar-El volunteers’ weekend stays. Accommodation is free, with meals included. This is a great alternative for those who are on a tight budget. It is not fancy, but it is near Tel Aviv’s hub and the beach.
One tends to forget that one is in a country in a constant state of war. The zest for life is unbelievable, which I noticed on my weekends in Tel Aviv. The bustling traffic; people sitting at coffee shops and in restaurants, or shopping at the Carmel Market; youngsters speeding down busy main intersections on their electric scooters; hip-looking men and women walking along the beautiful promenade with their dogs; beachgoers laughing and listening to music; picnickers on lawns with little children frolicking nearby; buskers entertaining the passing throng. What a beautiful, perfect picture it painted in an imperfect world.
Three weeks went by in a flash and soon it was time to return to Toronto. I looked for any reason that would enable me to stay, but, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. But it doesn’t have to end permanently. I will return to Israel. In fact, I am already looking at calendar dates.
I would highly recommend Sar-El for anyone who loves Israel and wants to do something worthwhile. Israel will welcome you with open arms and she will thank you.
To learn more about how you can experience your own “do good, feel good” adventure of a lifetime, email [email protected].
Charleen Glaunis a receptionist/caterer for an oil company in Toronto. She made aliyah in 1975 and spent the next 13 years traveling between Israel and South Africa, where she was born. Though aware of Sar-El since 1986, she did not have an opportunity to return to Israel until her December 2018 trip with the organization. Her heart has always been in Israel so, for her, the 2018 trip was “going home,” and she plans on returning with Sar-El before the end of this year, and each year going forward.
An April 15 press tour took journalists to the Israeli side of the Jordan River. Joshua and the Israelites made their crossing here. (photo by Gil Zohar)
Seventeen bulletproof buses of pilgrims, plus one carrying journalists, spilled their contents April 15 at Qasr al-Yahud (Arabic for the Jews’ Castle) on the muddy banks of the not-so-mighty Jordan River, 10 kilometres east of Jericho. The buses were provided by the Government Press Office in Jerusalem.
The holy site is also called the Land of Monasteries because of the seven Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Ethiopian churches there. Until 2011, it was a fenced-off, closed military zone ringed by minefields. Qasr al-Yahud is revered by Christians as the place where John the Baptist immersed his second cousin, Jesus of Nazareth.
For Jews, the shrine marks where, on Nissan 10, circa 1290 BCE, Joshua bin Nun led the Children of Israel to ford the Jordan River and begin their conquest of the Promised Land. But, with the cold peace prevailing between Israel and Jordan, soldiers of the Hashemite Kingdom’s Arab Legion warily monitored the crowds, making sure that no brave souls crossed to the polluted stream’s east bank to reenact Joshua’s miraculous crossing on dry land.
As Joshua and the 12 tribes approached the river, they were met by the kohanim (priests) carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The Jordan then miraculously split for them – perhaps caused by a landslide in the earthquake-prone region that temporarily blocked the river’s flow – allowing them to cross. After fording the Jordan, Joshua erected 12 stones taken from the river at Gilgal, whose location today is disputed by historians and archeologists.
Symbolizing that the process of the Israelites conquering the Promised Land some 3,289 years ago is still underway, Palestinian teenagers in Jericho pelted the armoured bus in which the journalists were riding, smashing one of the shatterproof windows. No one was injured in the attack.
For this writer, the explosive sound of the thump of the rock on glass brought to mind Joshua’s advice when the Israelites marched on ancient Jericho to begin their conquest: “Be strong and of good courage.” (Joshua 1:9)
Qasr al-Yahud is a corruption of “the Jews’ break,” traditionally the place where the Israelites crossed over, that is, “broke” the Jordan River after their 40 years of wandering in the Sinai Desert: “When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, even the waters that come down from above, and they shall stand in one heap.” (Joshua 3:13)
It was here, too, that Elijah the Prophet ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot after he and Elisha crossed the Jordan: “And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters; and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.” (2 Kings 2:8)
The strategic and diplomatic significance of the Jordan Valley were spoken about by retired Israel Defence Force (IDF) deputy chief-of-staff major general Uzi Dayan, who was elected to Israel’s Knesset (parliament) in the country’s April 9 general election.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and previously Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, spoke of the Land of Israel’s long centuries of foreign occupation, from the Romans to the British.
From 1948 until 1967, Qasr al-Yahud was under Jordanian control, and was a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims. In 1968, following the Six Day War, access to the site was prohibited by the IDF because of its location beyond the border fence in a closed military zone. In recent years, the Israeli Civil Administration – with the assistance of the tourism and regional development ministries – carried out infrastructure and development work at the site, including the clearing of mines. In 2011, the site was opened to visitors on a permanent basis without the need for prior security coordination.
Entering ancient Jericho, with its 8,000-year-old remains at Tel as-Sultan and two Byzantine-era synagogues, is another matter. Large signs at the entrance to the city proclaim in Hebrew and English that entry is prohibited to Israelis. In honour of the Nissan 10 celebration, however, Israelis were allowed to enter the city in Area A, the Palestinian self-rule section of the West Bank, which is off limits the rest of year.
And what of the minefields? One million square metres of land are currently being cleared of approximately 3,000 anti-personnel mines, antitank mines and other unexploded ordinance. The project is being carried out by Israel’s National Mine Action Authority under the direction of the Defence Ministry, together with HALO Trust, an international mine-clearance charity.