Motorists in Tel Aviv take cover from an incoming terrorist rocket. (photo from IDF Spokesperson’s Unit via Ashernet)
In Sderot, Simone Mizrachi wearily follows her two-year-old grandson as he happily jumps on the bouncy castle in a large indoor playground. A balloon pops and she jumps. The playground has four large underground bomb shelters in case of rocket attacks.
“Enough already,” said Mizrachi about the dozens of rockets fired at this small town in recent days. “My grandson is the second generation already living through these rockets. When we see smoke from the rockets, I try to tell him, ‘Look at the clouds up there,’ but he knows it’s not clouds. At age 2, he already knows what’s going on.”
Mizrachi has lived in this lower-middle-class town of 24,000 for 32 years and has raised her four children here. For the past 13 years, she said, Sderot has been under constant rocket fire. Because it is less than a mile to the border with the Gaza Strip, there are only 15 seconds to get to a shelter after the siren sounds. The Israeli government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build bomb shelters here – at bus stops, schools and in private homes.
Now, for the first time, rockets are hitting Tel Aviv. Mizrachi said she hopes Israel can end the rocket fire all over the country. But, she added, there is a certain satisfaction in the idea that Israelis in bourgeois Tel Aviv now understand what Sderot has been living with all this time.
“Where have they been for the past 13 years?” she asks angrily. “Now, they are finally getting a taste of what it is like to live here. There are times that we get 60 rockets a day. Maybe now that they feel it, the government will finally do something.”
To some, it was a (peace) camp reunion. To others, it served notice that peace with the Palestinians has returned to its place atop the agenda of Israel’s political left following its dalliance with socioeconomic issues. To the more than 2,000 participants in Haaretz newspaper’s Israel Peace Conference held last week at Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel, it was an elegant opportunity to mingle with the iconic stewardship of days past – topped by Shimon Peres – while honing the movement’s agenda among those poised to embrace the next wave of leadership, such as opposition head and Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and activist-turned-politician Stav Shaffir, who personifies the bridge from social activism to the politics of peace.
The history of the Israeli Peace Conference was itself microcosmic of the fortunes of the movement it supports. The idea began amid optimism born of word of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace mission, according to conference chief executive officer, journalist Akiva Eldar. “The original idea was to push [Israeli] Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to say ‘yes’ to Kerry but, around April, everything came to a halt,” he told this reporter.
“We kept pushing it off, finally setting it for July,” said Eldar, senior columnist for Al-Monitor. But, by the time the date rolled around, a new set of obstacles had presented themselves in the form of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens followed by the killing of a Palestinian youth. The atmosphere became more toxic to the point where key Palestinian participants, chief negotiator Sa’ib Erakat and businessman Munib Al-Masri, pulled out of the conference. Yet, the decision was made to continue as planned. According to Eldar, “We decided we don’t give veto power to terrorists on both sides.”
Nof Atamna-Ismaeel reacts to her win. (photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 from israel21c.org)
“This is the most exciting night of my life,” said a grinning, teary-eyed Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, upon her selection as winner of the fourth season of Master Chef Israel.
The April 5 broadcast had more than a third of Israel staying at home on a Saturday night to see who among the remaining three finalists would be crowned this year’s culinary champion of the most popular show on local television, even beating its close competition, Chef Games, which debuted this fall.
Israeli-Arab Atamna-Ismaeel ended up besting competitors Ido Kronenberg, a businessman from Savyon, and Meseret Woldimikhal, an Ethiopian-born immigrant in the process of converting from Catholicism to Judaism, who lives in Rishpon.
Atamna-Ismaeel was a judges’ favorite from the get-go. This year’s auditions for the show, based on the British reality program of the same name, involved two steps: a blind tasting of a sandwich prepared behind the scenes by a wannabe contestant, and a second dish cooked on screen by those whose sandwiches met with the judges’ approval.
Talia Safra and Nimrod Eisenberd of Hadassah Mt. Scopus Hospital in Jerusalem interact with a patient. (photo from Dream Doctors Project)
While clowns have brought smiles to the faces of many children, both healthy and sick, the latter clowning generally has been done on a volunteer basis and without the presence of a medical team. Recently, however, Israel became the first place in the world to recognize the medical benefits associated with positive attitude and laughter. Most Israeli hospitals now offer clown therapy and, due to its growing acceptance and success, the University of Haifa will be the first to offer a clown degree.
This all started with Jacob Shriqui, an Israeli shaliach to Geneva who went on to work in Israel’s health-care industry. Once he retired, Shriqui returned to visit some friends in Geneva and was invited to a meeting in a hospital in Lausanne. When he entered the hospital, he got lost and, in his wandering, he happened to walk by the pediatric department. To his surprise, he saw a giggling child out of the corner of his eye. Upon further investigation, he noticed the clown who was making the child smile.
“The idea came to him that if there is a thing like that, it should also be in Israel, because, until then, there was no medical clowning in Israel,” said Daniel Shriqui, Jacob’s son and past director of the Dream Doctor Project.
When he returned to Israel, Jacob Shriqui used his connections from the time he was stationed in Geneva to create the Magi Foundation, with its main function being the Dream Doctors Project in Israel. Built with the help of philanthropic members of the Jewish community in Geneva, in September 2001, the project started off with three clowns. After a year of experiments and positive feedback, he went from hospital to hospital proposing the concept.
“This is how we grew from three clowns to 127 today, in nearly every hospital in Israel,” said his son. “The main thing was, when my father came to the hospital, he said, ‘Look, we have a tool. It’s called a medical clown. We’re going to give him all the best training we can, and you’re going to try this tool like any other medical device. We don’t know exactly what it does or whether or not it will be effective. If it’s not, you can end the project whenever you want. If it is, you have to take on the responsibility of operating it.’”
From the start, the medical clowns in the hospitals were part of the medical team, a situation desired both by the hospitals and by the clowns.
“We work as part of the medical team because we believe that medical clowning is a medical profession, just like any other, and that it can be very successful,” said Daniel Shriqui. “But first, we had to convince the doctors and nurses of the benefits of having a clown when you take blood from the veins of a child. The child doesn’t cry because the clown is acting and playing with him.
“Another example is when a child is taken for a repair surgery after being sexually abused. Typically, the first test after that is done by the doctor, and by the clown paralleling, and everything is recorded.
“We see it really facilitating the work, and being able to work more smoothly with the children, [and] with the parents, too.”
Another part of the hospital-clown agreement is that the hospital gets the clowns’ services for one year for free with no obligation and no contract. If after one year, the hospital is happy with the results and wants to continue with the project, the hospital needs to start participating in the payment for the clown services.
“We knew we were here to stay when, last year, the head of the Ministry of Health in Israel called and said, ‘I need your clowns immediately,’” explained Shriqui. “‘We’re going to vaccinate all the children in Israel under nine years old for polio. We’re going to open almost 1,000 vaccination stations and I need all your staff, more than 100 clowns, to be present in the station to help us to do this.’” For the first three months, most of the clowns went from station to station and helped the nurses vaccinate the children.
“I suggested to one of the biggest hospitals in Israel, two years ago, that they use a clown in the oncology department for adults,” said Shriqui. “A few months ago, there was a budget problem and the hospital told the department we have to stop the clown service. A week later, the hospital manager received a letter signed by 70 patients, doctors and nurses, protesting against no longer having the clowns come to the unit twice a week. They explained why it is so very important, that the clowns transform the unit from a sad [one] to more positive.”
The increasing demand for hospital clowns is coming from within the medical field. The project works to fill the requests for services, but sometimes hospital budgets do get in the way.
“Especially in the oncology department, the children often are in the hospital for a really long time,” said Shriqui. “Unfortunately, many times it ends by the death of the child. But, during these months, sometimes years, there is a special relationship formed between the clown and the child, because our clowns work at the same place for years.
“In Israel, it’s a bit different…. The clown gives their own private cellphone numbers to the parents. I remember one case where the parents called a clown when he was off duty, at home, and said, ‘Listen, tomorrow we have to go to chemo and we’d like you to come assist, because the child asked that you to be there.’”
The project held a conference in October 2011, where clowns from around the world came to Israel.
“We help many clowns that come from all over the world and work with us to learn how to do this work better with medical teams, and then to be really involved in the processes and the medical treatments,” said Shriqui. “My philosophy is that a clown has to work freely. To get the best from the clown, you have to free him to be part of the team – and we have proof that if you free the clown, even to be in the operating room, you get unbelievable results.”
Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’er and Naftali Fraenkel z”l (photo from mfa.gov.il)
On Monday, June 30, the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, who were kidnapped June 12, were found northwest of Hebron. The sad discovery was the result of an extensive search effort led by the Israel Defence Forces, the Israel Security Agency and the Israel Police. A joint funeral was held July 1. Jewish groups and others around the world join in mourning.
In Vancouver, there will be a community memorial service, coordinated by the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver and led by Rabbi Berger, Rabbi Moskovitz and Cantor Szenes-Strauss, on Thursday, July 3, at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver at 7:30 p.m.
As well, to share your thoughts and express your condolences to the families of the boys, visit the Jewish Federations of North America’s “Remember Our Boys” page.
Tom and Tzameret in studio. (photo by Galit Reismann)
An Israeli mother and daughter duo have combined to create designer pieces that use exclusively natural textile, with a focus on nature, and creations that become an extension of the wearer of any shape or size.
Tzameret, 50, and Tom, 28, began their business from home when Tom was at Israel’s Shenkar College of Design, in her second year of studies (2009). Tzameret, an art therapist by profession, was looking to do something different, and building this business with her daughter was the perfect fit.
The pair began the work little by little while Tom was finishing school. After Tom graduated with honors in 2011, with a bachelor of design, she and Tzameret invested all the time, energy and resources they could into their brand. For the past 18 months, they have been working out of a studio in Jaffa.
Tooshaaya is a design studio for eco-textile accessories with the driving concept of “body, home, soul.” For now, they create accessories like scarves, shawls and cardigans, but they plan to soon also design accessories for the home and soul.
“I’ve wanted to have my own business since I was a little girl,” said Tom.
During the summer between her second and third year at Shenkar, Tom said, “I wanted to make my own products, like scarves, and sell them. My mom was at a point when she wanted to take a small break from therapy.
“As always, I shared my prototype with my mom. We started talking about it and the idea to work together came up. I thought it was a great idea.
“Me and my mom are complete opposite in a lot of things. That can make us feel crazy sometimes, but it also makes us perfect business partners and designers. Also, we always know how much we love each other and that we want the best for each other.”
Tzameret has always loved art, creation and design. Also, she said, “I love Tom, believe in her, and appreciate her talent. Since she was four or five years old, it has been very clear she is gifted in art and has her own unique way of looking at things.
“We decided to join forces and talents, and create an exciting journey together. Although it’s not always simple to be a business partner with your daughter, it’s a huge privilege. I’m very proud.”
When Tom was in college, she “learned the textile industry is the second-most-polluted industry in the world.” She said, “As a textile designer, I see it as my responsibility to design and create ecological textile.” Tooshaaya’s motto is “Touched by nature.”
Tom and Tzameret chose to work only with natural materials, especially with new eco-fibres like bamboo and soy. “These fibres, in addition to the eco part, have special and very important qualities, like UV protection, hypoallergenic, temperature adjustments and [the] creation of amino acids, which is healthy for the skin,” explained Tom. “They’re good for the world and the body. Of course, we also believe in sustainability and love the energy of natural materials around our bodies.”
Tooshaaya designs are inspired by the sights, shapes, textures and colors of nature. “With each of our designs, even when there are few similar items, no one [item] is the same,” said Tom. “Each has its own unique design and process of production, which is mostly handmade.
“We believe that, when we feel comfortable, it’s easier to be connected to nature and express who we are.”
It has proved challenging to find natural materials, however. “Yarns are imported by us,” Tom said. “Also, producing natural materials is slower and more complicated than it is with synthetic or mixed yarns.
“Israel is a small and challenging market, in general, and particularly for niche designers,” she added. “We’re glad to have local [from Israel] and international loyal and return clientele who love our designs, appreciate our work and share our concepts.
“When I look at nature, I see infinite organic beauty composed of stability and softness, a tension between order and disorder, and the changes wrought by time, giving everything its unique character.
“My art and designs are a constant search for this organic esthetic. When I design an item, like a scarf, I create a second skin that looks organic and feels like a natural continuation of the body. The item’s unique character comes from the person who wears it, through movement and over time.”
Each item is made using special knitting techniques, with fine and delicate threads, hand dying, embroidering, weaving and felting. The items can be worn with a variety of clothing types and styles. Most are one-size-fits-all, suitable for sizes 36-44 (EU).
“Our ability to create custom-size orders, including plus sizes, is also somewhat unique,” said Tom. “Our items can fit almost anyone. And our ability to ship worldwide is very exciting. We send packages to all continents of the world, from the U.S. to Turkey, Russia, Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and Italy.
“We love our work. What is most satisfying is when customers tell us how much they enjoy wearing our items, and we can see how our ideas are reflected in reality and bring happiness to others.”
Reuven Rivlin votes in the presidential election in the Knesset. (photo by Ashernet)
On June 10, Israel’s 120-seat parliament chose longtime Likud member Reuven Rivlin as the country’s next president. He will succeed Shimon Peres, who retires next month at the age of 90.
Rivlin, who served two terms as speaker of the Knesset, has been a member of parliament for almost 20 years. He won on the second round of voting, beating out rival Knesset member Meir Sheetrit in that round. He said that he will serve the entire public.
“This [Likud] party was my home as I said it would be until I was legally obligated to leave it. Now, I am no longer a party man, I am no longer a faction man. I am everybody’s man. A man of the people,” Rivlin told the Knesset.
Mahapach-Taghir’s national coordinator Itamar Hamiel and Palestinian co-director Fidaa Nara Abu-Dbai at the organization’s last residents conference in Tel Aviv. (photo from Itamar Hamiel)
On June 10, Itamar Hamiel of Mahapach-Taghir will be in Vancouver to speak about his organization and new models of activism focused on the Israeli peripheria, the socioeconomic and geographic fringes of the country.
Sponsored by New Israel Fund of Canada (NIFC) and hosted by Temple Sholom Synagogue, the lecture is the latest in a series of NIFC events in the city. Mahapach-Taghir, a project that NIF supports, defines itself as a feminist, grassroots, Jewish-Arab organization that focuses on education and community development. Its origins are in the Israeli students’ tuition strike of 1998, with a group of students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Believing that social change must go beyond themselves and also include marginalized communities, they began volunteering in the Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem, eventually establishing an after-school education and mentoring program. This program grew into Mahapach-Taghir’s first “learning community,” which has been replicated in eight neighborhoods across Israel, and remains the organization’s core program.
In anticipation of his visit, the Independent spoke with Hamiel, who is Mahapach-Taghir’s national coordinator.
JI: What is the relationship between NIF and your organization?
IH: NIF has supported Mahapach-Taghir since our founding in 1998…. Our organization is sometimes hard to understand: we are a feminist, grassroots, Jewish-Arab organization that focuses on education and community activism. Because of this, sometimes it is hard for us to find funding from foundations that have more specific focus. NIF understands this complexity and supports us in it. Because we insist on Jewish-Palestinian partnership on all levels of our organization, some Jewish foundations aren’t interested in our work. They have a narrow view of what supporting Israel means, and NIF breaks that mold.
Around 14 percent of our funding from last year was from NIF, but our experience is that long-term support is more critical than the amount of funding, and NIF has provided that.
JI: How did you become involved in Mahapach-Taghir?
IH: I became involved in Mahapach-Taghir around 15 years ago, a few months after it was established, as a student volunteer in our community in Florentine (Tel Aviv). After the students in Jerusalem founded the organization in Katamonim, they decided to open communities around the country, including in Florentine.
I saw an ad in the university library and thought it looked interesting – 15 years later, I still haven’t left. I was a student volunteer, a coordinator, a board member, and now work on the national staff. Mahapach-Taghir became my “ideological home.” I know many organizations that focus on feminism, Jewish-Arab partnership, community work, etc., but there are no other organizations that combine these inherently interconnected issues in the way that Mahapach-Taghir does.
JI: Looking at the staff list on the website, all of the staff are women except for you. What are your thoughts on leading a feminist organization?
IH: I am here representing Mahapach-Taghir, but I wouldn’t say that I lead the organization, and I don’t think it would be right if I did. Our Palestinian co-director is Fidaa Nara Abu Dbai and we are currently looking for a Jewish co-director. I won’t even apply for that job because I don’t believe a man should lead an organization that is comprised primarily of women. Usually, even in civil society, most of the staff and volunteers are women and the directors are still men. We believe that it is important to break that paradigm.
JI: How does the Jewish-Arab aspect of the organization get expressed?
IH: Our communities come together for national conferences and seminars at least six times a year. One of our communities is a mixed Jewish-Arab community and, in our communities that are not mixed, there are partnerships between Jewish and Arab communities in geographic proximity.
Mainly, though, we do not think that the only way to do Jewish-Palestinian partnership work is through direct meetings…. For example, in Jerusalem, the Mahapach-Taghir activists in Kiryat HaYovel started a project called Second Opportunity, in which women who had no high school degree were able to pursue a bachelor’s degree. This might not seem political but through Mahapach-Taghir, they drew the link between their lack of education and the political marginalization they face as women in a Mizrahi community. They also understand the link between their marginalization and that of Palestinian women in Israel. The women shared their project with the rest of the communities in a national event, and that inspired the women from Tamra (a Palestinian town inside Israel) to start their own version of the project where the graduates from Jerusalem will serve as mentors. For me, this is the true meaning of partnership: each community works for its own empowerment, while acknowledging the rights and needs of other communities and inspiring one another. They work in solidarity.
JI: What is the feminist aspect of the learning communities? Are fathers also invited to participate?
IH: Each learning community is led by a steering committee that is comprised of residents, almost all of whom are women. We didn’t set out to exclude men but, when you talk about education and community empowerment, women tend to show up. The students who founded Mahapach-Taghir didn’t set out to establish a feminist organization but their view of social justice, and the fact that most of the activists that got involved were women, made it clear that feminism is one of our core values. The very fact that even today when we open a new community it is women who show up, confirms this value. Being a feminist organization doesn’t necessarily mean excluding men, but this country will be a better place when more women have active leadership roles.
JI: Organizations focusing on community development, education and youth take a long view of social change compared to political groups. Why have you chosen this form of activism?
IH: Your question assumes a dichotomy between political and social change. We in Mahapach-Taghir see community development, education and youth work as highly political. Especially in the Israeli context there is a separation between talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (political) and doing work in marginalized communities (social). As always in Mahapach-Taghir, we see this holistically. These issues are interconnected and we need to engage with them as such.
For this reason, we use this form of activism. We have a long view of social change and want to support communities in engaging in activism that will improve the lives of their families, communities and eventually their societies more generally while encouraging solidarity between Jews and Palestinians inside Israel.
JI: Are there measurable outcomes from Mahapach-Taghir’s learning communities?
IH: There are many measurable outcomes from our learning communities but the most important outcomes are not easy to measure. How do you measure empowerment, solidarity and sense of community? In recent years, the perspectives of the corporate world have increasingly influenced expectations of civil society. Organizations like Mahapach-Taghir are expected to provide products and measurable outcomes, and I think that this view is mistaken. I understand that foundations want to know if their money is being well spent but I don’t think that social change can be measured so easily. I am happy to share countless success stories. We can see changes in the communities where we work and in the activists and students that we work with. The stories that are most exciting are usually from activists who have been involved for many years and have gone through a slow but meaningful process of change.
JI: You are coming to Vancouver to solicit donations for NIF from the Diaspora Jewish community. Do you also do resource development in the Arab community (either locally or in the Diaspora)?
IH: Most of our funding comes from European foundations, not from the Jewish Diaspora. We hope that this will change and that more Diaspora Jews will see the value in our work. We also do fundraising locally in each of our communities because we believe in the value of sustainability and local partnership. We have had much more success doing this in our Arab communities. Last year, we raised over 50,000 shekels from our local communities and most of this was from our Arab communities.
JI: What do you hope to share with the Jewish community in Vancouver?
IH: I want to share with them a complex understanding of the society in Israel. I see the tension that Diaspora Jews face of feeling the need to be either “with us or against us,” but I believe that supporting Israel means supporting a more democratic, diverse, pluralistic society in Israel. I hope to bring the voice of our activists, who are doing incredible work in their communities, Jewish and Palestinian, marginalized communities around the country.
Maayan Kreitzman is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.
To register for the June 10 event at Temple Sholom, which starts at 7 p.m., go to nifcan.org/our-events/upcoming. In addition to Hamiel, NIFC has invited a local counterpart in community building as a parallel to the work being done in Israel: Lindsay Vander Hoek of Mission Possible will describe her organization’s work with residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
By age 20, Elad Peled was a senior commander in the Palmach, one of the branches of Israel’s pre-state army. He was wounded during the fighting and was taken to the hospital. On the way, he passed the Israeli town of Pardes Hanna, and remembered there was a girl he had met and liked who lived there. He wrote a quick note on a piece of paper and threw it out the window, saying that he was trying to contact her. A few days later, her parents came to the hospital with flowers and, just a few weeks later, Peled married Zimra, also a member of the Haganah, who had been accompanying convoys trying to reach besieged Jerusalem.
That was 67 years ago, just a few months before the creation of the state of Israel. Today, Elad and Zimra (who was one of only 100 babies to be born on Ellis Island, the immigration gateway to the United States) are among two of the 700 interviewees compiled by Toldot Yisrael, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to sharing the testimonies of the founders of the state of Israel.
With the collapse of the U.S.-brokered peace negotiations, the Palestinian leadership has embarked on a plan of unilateral action to gain recognition of a Palestinian state and to isolate Israel internationally. Couple those developments with the Fatah movement’s unity pact with the terrorist group Hamas, and Israel is facing a complex reality. Without peace talks, what options does Israel have? Will Israel be forced to take its own unilateral steps?
“If [an] agreement is unachievable, then moving independently to shape the borders of Israel is the better course,” suggested Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli air force general and former head of the Israel Defence Forces Military Intelligence Directorate. “While it is not the [ideal] alternative, it is better than the status quo or a bad agreement.”
Yadlin, who now serves as director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), is among a growing number of respected Israeli leaders putting forth proposals for unilateral steps. In a proposal posted earlier this month on the INSS website, Yadlin argued that Israel has more than the two options usually discussed: a peace agreement and the status quo. According to Yadlin, Israel’s four strategic options are a peace agreement along the parameters established by former U.S. president Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000, an “unacceptable” peace agreement on Palestinian terms, a status quo in which the Palestinians dictate their own terms or a status quo in which Israel dictates its own terms.
Yadlin argued that while the Clinton parameters – which include the Palestinians agreeing to end the conflict and give up both the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and dividing Jerusalem – are Israel’s “best option,” it is “highly unlikely” that such an agreement will ever be realized. Instead, Yadlin believes that Israel should promote an “Israeli option” that preserves Israel’s objectives to remain a “Jewish, democratic, secure and just state.” He said this would allow Israel to “independently shape its own borders,” with a strategy towards “advancing a two-state solution.”