Maya Lichtmann (photo from Connect Model United Nations Vancouver)
Maya Lichtmann was selected in May as a Canadian high school intern for StandWithUs, an international organization that educates about Israel and fights antisemitism. She was chosen for the program after participating in a StandWithUs event at King David High School.
Lichtmann, a Grade 12 student at J.N. Burnett Secondary School in Richmond, attended a conference in August at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles with about 100 other high school interns, including about a dozen Canadians. She will join all high school and college interns in January at the same location.
As part of the internship, she recently delivered an educational program to two History 12 classes at her school. She covered the history of the Jewish people, how they came to Europe, the rise of Nazism, the Holocaust, the creation of the state of Israel and the rise of anti-Zionism. While she uses resources offered by StandWithUs, her presentations are developed independently.
“A lot of the presentations that StandWithUs have are catered toward Jewish audiences, because a lot of the kids who are doing the internship go to private Jewish schools,” she said. Because she goes to a public school, and one where a majority of students are of Asian heritage, she developed the presentations for audiences with limited knowledge of the topic. She received entirely positive feedback from a “100% non-Jewish audience,” she said.
Lichtmann plans to make a presentation about LGBTQ+ rights in Israel to her school’s gay-straight alliance, and one about Israel’s role in the international community at her Model United Nations Club, which she led as president last year. She will also be delivering a presentation at a student-run TEDx event.
“I’m very passionate about Israel,” she said. “It’s one of the key factors in fighting international antisemitism because I believe that unity and acceptance of Jewish people has been a struggle for the past 1,900 years, as the Jewish people were throughout the Diaspora, and I hope to continue to help Jewish people feel more accepted within society.”
She added: “My grandfather was in a concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. We were forced to relocate after the Holocaust, so my family moved to Israel and my father was born in Israel and then immigrated to Canada. But my ties and connection to Israel are obviously still very strong.”
Lichtmann also is on her school’s student council, president of the school’s Women in Leadership Club, youth representative on the board of directors at the Thompson Community Centre in Richmond, and premier-elect of the Richmond-Delta Youth Parliament. She coaches cheerleading and tutors international students in English.
Lichtmann is a daughter of Mandy and Eyal Lichtmann and big sister to Noa and Liel.
Then-mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and Nomi Levin Yeshua at the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada gala in Toronto in 2014. (photo from Nomi Levin Yeshua)
This article is the first in an occasional series about people with British Columbian roots having positive impacts in Israel and elsewhere.
When Nomi Levin Yeshua went to Israel in 1990, she wasn’t committed to staying there. Almost three decades later, the Vancouver-born and -raised woman can look back on a career that has impacted the face of Jerusalem and Israel.
Thanks to a chance meeting over Shabbat lunch with her grandmother’s former neighbour’s sister – “You know Israel,” she said, laughing – Yeshua had barely arrived in Israel when she got a job as assistant to the assistant to Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s mayor – but the job was more than that.
Shula Eisner, Yeshua’s new boss, had been working for Kollek since 1965, just before he began his 28-year run as mayor. Kollek was chairman of the Israel Museum and, before that, had served 11 years as director general of the prime minister’s office under David Ben-Gurion. In that role, Kollek effectively created almost all of the government agencies in the new state.
“One of the things he believed was that there had to be a national museum,” Yeshua told the Independent recently while in Vancouver for a milestone birthday of her mother, Shanie Levin. “He went around raising money to start the Israel Museum. He had an office there and [Eisner] was originally hired there to work with him with all the foreign donors. Then he was elected mayor and he kept to the Israel Museum office.”
In 1966, Kollek founded the Jerusalem Foundation, where Yeshua now works.
“That was his way of creating a forum for supporters of Jerusalem around the world, to be part of creating a new vision for Jerusalem. Then, a year after that, with the Six Day War and the reunification of the city, suddenly everything was just multiplied,” she said.
Yeshua acknowledged that Kollek’s multiple roles as mayor, head of the national museum and leader of a major foundation would probably not be sustainable today, but that was a different time.
“For him, it was all fluid,” she said.
To accommodate his different hats in the era before email or even fax machines, there was a driver who shuffled between offices, taking papers back and forth.
When Eisner moved over to another foundation, she handed her baton to Yeshua, who worked with Kollek through his last years as mayor and continued until a few months before he passed away, in 2007. She continues to run all donor relations for the Jerusalem Foundation and she personally handles Canadian fundraising for the organization.
The Jerusalem Foundation was started by Kollek because he saw that Jerusalem was a very poor city.
“A lot of religious institutions that don’t pay taxes at all are in Jerusalem, so he knew that it was always going to be a challenge for the city to have a balanced budget, to expand the city, to develop the city, to provide for the citizens of the city, so he knew that he was going to need to raise money,” she said.
Kollek pioneered a fundraising model that is now almost universal across Israeli and Jewish philanthropy.
“He connected every donor to a specific project and they knew that their money went to that project and they could come – and now their grandchildren come – and see those projects. To this day, they can still track the money. The Jerusalem Foundation was really at the forefront of that movement of changing the way people were giving to Israel. Now, it’s taken for granted, but it wasn’t back in the late ’60s and early ’70s at all. That was Teddy,” she said. “He wanted people to feel personally connected to the city, to the project, to the place.”
The foundation emphasizes “shared living” and is now focused on a vision for 2030.
“This is a city that is completely about how to exist together in this space that we share. It’s not just Arabs and Jews. It’s also secular and religious, it’s poor and rich, it’s all kinds of divisions that exist in the city,” she said. “But how do we share and how do we understand each other better?”
One major project is Hand-in-Hand School for Bilingual Education.
“Bilingual education is something that Canadians completely understand but Israelis less so. This is a school that teaches in Arabic and in Hebrew, in mixed classrooms. The rest of the Israeli education system is – we don’t like to use this word but it’s the truth – segregated,” she said. “There are Jewish schools, there are Arab schools and then, even within the Jewish schools, there are religious and nonreligious. This school brings together all of the different population groups and at all times there is an Arabic-speaking and a Hebrew-speaking teacher in the classroom.” There are now six such schools around the country.
Another area of the foundation’s work is helping the most vulnerable populations in the city, through projects such as Springboard, which develops programs primarily through the education system to push gifted kids into opportunities their financial situation might not otherwise permit.
The Jerusalem Foundation is also the city’s second-largest funder to the arts, after the municipality.
“We really believe that a modern and thriving city should have a good cultural scene. Culture is not just for one population group. All members of the community should be cultural consumers. But you have to create culture that is appropriate for those people,” she said. “For example, there is a dance troupe for ultra-Orthodox women. They only perform for women, of course, because otherwise that wouldn’t work for them. But they’re really doing amazing stuff and giving these ultra-Orthodox women who want to dance an opportunity to have a really high-level, professional dance troupe within the system that works for them.”
The foundation is also building a new Hassadna Conservatory of Music.
“They help kids ages six all the way through high school with classical music education and they also provide a special program for children of Ethiopian descent who don’t necessarily have the financial means to get musical training and they have a special program for special needs kids that’s integrated,” she said.
Yeshua credits her Vancouver upbringing as foundational to her worldview and accomplishments. She grew up in the Habonim Dror Zionist youth movement and was a camper, counselor and camp director at Camp Miriam. At home, her Jewishness was nurtured in a pluralistic way.
“In terms of how my mother brought us up, Jewish identity wasn’t limited to our religious identity,” she recalled. “National identity was something that was acceptable, cultural identity was very much encouraged. I think growing up in the very open community of Vancouver – to me it always seems that way, at least – it allowed me to be Jewish in a way that I felt good with and it wasn’t only one way to be Jewish.”
Yeshua acknowledged that “many people feel somewhat alienated from Israel today.”
“I want people to understand that there is a way to engage with Israel, to support Israel, and not contradict your own value system or what you think is acceptable,” she said. “What we do with the Jerusalem Foundation is something that people can respond to, relate to, understand – to protect Jerusalem as a city that is for everyone.”
This colour image was obtained by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft early Dec. 12, 1990, when the spacecraft was about 1.6 million miles from the earth. (photo from NASA/JPL)
It’s been 50 years since Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon, on July 20, 1969. But there was another “first” six months earlier – in January 1969, the first Jew journeyed into space, Soviet cosmonaut Boris Volynov.
Since then, there have been 14 Jewish space-bound astronauts, including arguably the most famous, Israeli Ilan Ramon, who died in the explosion of the Columbia Space Shuttle, with six colleagues, in February 2003.
Like many before him, and many since, Ramon’s mission was infused with his Jewish heritage. For the voyage, he packed a pocket-sized Torah smuggled in (and out) of Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi death camp, and brought “Moon Landscape,” drawn by Petr Ginz, a 14-year-old inmate of Auschwitz. He also requested kosher food on the shuttle and NASA contacted Illinois-based My Own Meals, which makes kosher “thermo-stabilized” sealed pouches for campers. Reports say that Ramon also asked Rabbi Zvi Konikov of Satellite Beach, Fla., about keeping Shabbat in space – depending on the shuttle’s position, sunrise can happen 16 times a day.
To mark the 50-year milestone of the moon landing, the Jewish Independent interviewed three Jewish astronauts: Jeffrey Hoffman (the first Jewish male astronaut in space), David Wolf and Mark Polansky.
* * *
Hoffman was sent on five missions, the first in 1985; the last in 1996. In 1993, he repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. He logged more than 1,000 hours (the first to do so) and 21.5 million miles in space.
JI: Did you always want to be an astronaut?
JH: Well, if you asked in 1962 … any red-blooded young American boy, or probably Russian boys, for that matter, what they wanted to be when they grew up, 90% would say astronauts. I recognized that all of the early astronauts were military test pilots, and it was not a career I was interested in. I never considered it a realistic career prospect, but it was something I was always fascinated by.
In the late ’70s, NASA was developing what was then the brand new Space Shuttle, which had a crew of up to seven and they only needed two pilots. So, when they put out the first call for shuttle astronauts, all of sudden there were two types of astronauts now they were looking for. They were looking for the pilots, who were the traditional test pilot astronauts just like it had always been in the program, but they were also looking for scientists, engineers, medical doctors…. I all put in an application, and I was lucky enough to get selected.
JI: What was a highlight in space?
JH: The first highlight was riding a rocket into space, which fulfilled a childhood dream. But, the most memorable was, for every shuttle flight, two crew members were trained to use the space suits, just in case something happened. We weren’t planning on doing one on our flight, but one of our satellites malfunctioned and they sent me and my partner out to do what was, for NASA, the very first ever unplanned spacewalk. That was just an extraordinary experience.
JI: How did you get the idea to spin a dreidel in space?
JH: Before my first flight, my rabbi (Shaul Osadchey) asked me if I was interested in taking Jewish artifacts up. There were several dreidels I took up, one from the synagogue. I also took a mezuzah (donated to the Jewish Museum in New York), a Torah, both tallits from my two sons from their bar mitzvah, and a menorah, which is still at the front door of the science museum in Jerusalem. While I was in Jerusalem, I met a couple of Jewish artists who had read about me, a Jewish astronaut who took Jewish things into space. I had planned on being in space during Chanukah and one thing led to another and they presented me with a dreidel and a traveling menorah. It is a beautiful dreidel. It simply would not stop spinning!
JI: What did you do with the other Jewish stuff?
JH: There are only bunks for half the crew, with little places where you would sleep at night, and so we would share those with someone on the other crew. Well, I had a mezuzah with me. Of course, you can’t nail a mezuzah to the door when you are in a spacecraft; you have to use Velcro. So, I put it on the inside of my little sleep compartment and I would remove it every morning, because I figured this was for me and I didn’t want to impose on someone else who might not know what it is about. Fourth day of the mission, the guy who had been using my bunk at night said, “Hey, Jeff, that’s a nice idea putting the mezuzah in there!” I slapped my forehead…. It was Scott Horowitz, another Jewish astronaut. So, after that, we just left the mezuzah Velcroed to the wall for the both of us.
JI: Did you know Ilan Ramon?
JH: I knew Ilan, and had numerous contacts with his wife, Rona, since Ilan’s death. Although he was a payload specialist astronaut – a non-professional astronaut, on a crew for a special reason, for only one flight – he was totally accepted into the astronaut office culture. A large part of this is because his heroism as an Israeli Air Force pilot impressed the pilot astronauts, and another large part was because he was a genuinely likable person.
* * *
Wolf had four missions from 1993 to 2009, with more than 4,000 hours in space, 168 days in orbit on the space station Mir and seven spacewalks. He was the chief engineer for the orbital medical facility and chief scientist for the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory bioreactor (tissue-engineering) program. He conducted a number of experiments and studies, including advanced microgravity tissue-engineering techniques.
JI: How did you become an astronaut?
DW: I’d been flying in the F4 Phantom in the international guard for many years and had that air force background; I had this mix of medicine, engineering and flying. I wound up in a very unique situation as an astronaut because I had been at NASA for nine years already, building instruments for the shuttle and the space station. Interestingly enough, I went to NASA as a bioengineer and a flight surgeon initially. I was the chief engineer for what became the health medical facility on the space station.
JI: What was terrifying about being in space?
DW: I was trapped outside the airlock on a spacewalk in a Russian space suit in a Russian spacecraft. The airlock was never recovered. It wouldn’t repressurize, so we had to ditch into another module. [It] took like 14 hours; we were [brought in] at the last second. I have had three total power failures of a spacecraft.
JI: Now tell me about the Jewish aspects.
DW: We Jewish astronauts do consider ourselves as representing the Jewish community. We take it seriously. I carried a mezuzah and it’s on my door now. I also carried a yad, a Torah pointer, and gave it to my synagogue in Indianapolis. I had a small menorah up there. I have the world-record dreidel spin.
JI: You might want to ask Hoffman about that.
DW: Hoffman and I are having a running battle, a running argument, on who has the longest dreidel spin. But I know mine went for like an hour and a half until it got sucked into an air intake. It was just floating there spinning.
JI: Did you know Ilan Ramon?
DW: We were good friends, and his office was right down the hall, a few doors down. He was one of the very finest that we ever saw come through. And Israel should be totally proud of providing that kind of quality to the astronaut office.
* * *
Polansky was sent on three missions – in 2001, 2006 and 2009 – all of which contributed to assembly of the ISS. He has logged nearly a thousand hours in space, and served as director of operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Russia. His initial flight was notable for several firsts: the first shuttle to dock with the ISS, the first time that a total of 13 crew members lived and worked onboard the ISS at the same time, and the first time that an astronaut/cosmonaut from every ISS partner agency was in orbit together.
JI: When did you decide to become an astronaut?
MP: I was 13 when we landed on the moon and I got inspired and thought about becoming an astronaut. I’m old enough to remember that everything came to a screeching halt. The teacher would roll in a rickety old black-and-white TV on a stand and plug it in, and pull out rabbit ears….
I was a freshman in college in ’74 and I was living in a dormitory at Purdue University with, of all people, David Wolf, and Gene Cernan came to campus to give a talk. Imagine yourself as a freshman in college being about five feet away from a man who walked on the moon – I still have goosebumps about that. And that led me down a road which went to the air force and beyond to eventually get where I got.
JI: What was a highlight of being in space?
MP: You go over places, especially when you orbit around the Middle East, and you know what goes on, on the ground, and the horrible things humans can do to each other, and the suffering. You see none of that from there. You get this feeling of, it’s almost both hope and sadness. It gives you hope that we as a species can get past this.
JI: Given past disasters, were you afraid?
MP: Flying high-performance aircraft, being a fighter pilot, a test pilot, unfortunately, there are times when there are going to be aviation mishaps, and it’s usually very unforgiving. You realize that, as much as you would like to make things so safe, there is no such thing as absolute safety, where you never get hurt. You don’t want to get hurt in an aviation accident? Well, don’t fly airplanes. I always knew there was a lot of risk to it.
I got to meet a lot of the people who were working on the hardware. This was a calling for them. They could have made a lot more money working in another industry, but they were there because they just lived and breathed working on Space Shuttles, doing everything they could to make sure those Space Shuttles were as safe as they possibly could be.
JI: Did you know Ilan Ramon?
MP: I knew Ilan Ramon and, when he came over, he was flying with a couple of classmates of mine. After that tragedy, I spoke on behalf of the agency at a reception they had in Los Angeles, about Ilan. He was just a normal, great guy, and a man of peace.
Other Jewish astronauts:
Jerome Apt: Four missions, 1991 to 1996. Author of Orbit: NASA Astronauts Photograph the Earth (National Geographic Society). Received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1997. In 2012, the International Astronomical Union approved the name “Jeromeapt” for the main-belt asteroid 116903.
Martin Fettman: 1993 mission. Has published more than 100 articles in refereed scientific journals.
Scott J. Horowitz: three missions, 1996-2001. Four Space Shuttle flights. A retired U.S. air force colonel.
Garrett Reisman: 2008 and 2010 missions. Joined SpaceX in 2011 as a senior engineer working on astronaut safety.
Gregory Chamitoff: 2008 and 2011 missions. The Lawrence Hargrave Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Sydney, Australia; professor of engineering practice in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University.
Ellen Louise Shulman Baker: three missions, 1989-1995, the last of which was the first Space Shuttle mission to dock with the Russian space station Mir, and involved an exchange of crews. Logged almost 700 hours in space.
Marsha Ivins: five missions, 1990-2001. Spent 55 days in orbit, on missions devoted to such diverse tasks as deploying satellites, conducting scientific research, and docking with Mir and the ISS.
John M. Grunsfeld: five missions, 1995-2002. In January 2012, returned to NASA and served as associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
Judith Resnik: first Jewish American and the first Jewish woman in space. Died on Challenger, January 1986.
Dave Gordonis a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
On display now at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, the exhibit Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away is the most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition ever mounted in North America about Auschwitz. Dedicated to the victims of the death camp, the goal of this exhibit is to make sure no one ever forgets.
A study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany reported that 41% of Americans and 66% of millennials say they don’t know about the Auschwitz death camp, where more than a million Jews and others, including Poles, Sinti and Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, were executed. And 22% of millennials say they haven’t even heard of the Holocaust.
“Seventy-three years ago, after the world saw the haunting pictures from Auschwitz, no one in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis,” Ron Lauder, founder and chair of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Committee and president of World Jewish Congress, said. “This exhibit reminds them, in the starkest ways, where antisemitism can ultimately lead and the world should never go there again. The title of this exhibit is so appropriate because this was not so long ago, and not so far away.”
The exhibition consists of 20 galleries spanning three floors, and features more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs. They are on loan from more than 20 institutions and private collections around the world, as well as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.
An audio guide given to each visitor upon entry details the items on display. Visitors will see hundreds of personal possessions, such as suitcases, eyeglasses, photos, shoes, socks and clothes that belonged to survivors and those murdered at the concentration camp. In one glass case, a child’s shoe is on display with a sock neatly tucked inside. We are left to wonder, who put that sock in the shoe and were they expecting the child to shower and then retrieve it?
Auschwitz was located 31 miles west of Krakow in the small southern Polish town Oswiecim, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Jews were a part of its society for centuries. Auschwitz-Birkenau was conceived and initially constructed to house 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war and slave labour, before it became a factory of death. The architect who designed the camp was Fritz Ertl, a native of Austria. Ultimately, some 1.1 million Jews and thousands of others were killed there. Many who arrived at Auschwitz were sent directly from the overcrowded, sealed, windowless boxcars to the gas chambers and crematoriums.
There are videos throughout the exhibit, including one of Hitler and a large adoring crowd. There’s a concrete post that was a part of the fence at the Auschwitz camp, and a part of the original barrack for prisoners at the killing centre.
A German-made Model-2 boxcar, like those used to transport people to Auschwitz, sits outside the museum. In a video, survivors talk of the horrible conditions and stench inside those boxcars.
Viewers can see the operating table, test tubes and instruments used in medical experiments. There’s a gas mask used by the SS and a model of a gas chamber door used in crematoria 2, 3, 4 and 5 – and testimonies from survivors of the camp. To show the striking contrast between the victims and the perpetrators, there are photos of Rudolf Hess at his nearby residence with his family enjoying the outdoors.
Nazi ideology and the roots of antisemitism are traced from the beginning, to understand what happened before the gas chambers were created. Discrimination and bigotry against Jews existed long before Hitler came into power, of course. In one room, there’s an anti-Jewish proclamation issued in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring for his birthday by German security chief Reinhard Heydrich. The proclamation required Jews to identify themselves with a yellow ring on their clothes. Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s work.
In a video seen near the end of the exhibition, Holocaust survivors urge people to refrain from hate and to work for peace.
This exhibition was in Madrid before coming to New York. This important and moving must-see exhibition is both a reminder and a warning.
Alice Burdick Schweiger is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.
Located in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, at 36 Battery Place, entry to the exhibit Auschwitz: Not Long Ago is by timed tickets available at mjhnyc.org. An audio guide is included with admission, and tickets range from $10 to $25. Hours are Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (last entry at 7 p.m.), and Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (last entry at 3 p.m.). The exhibit will be in New York until January 2020.
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.”
Campers at Pennsylvania’s Camp Havaya. (photo from Camp Havaya)
In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), Ben Zoma says, “Who is honourable? One who honours others.” The Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Shmira Initiative “aims to make camps safe, healthy and respectful model communities. Shmira, in Hebrew and in the vernacular of Jewish summer camp, means guard duty, embodying the social and individual responsibility every community member has to ensure a safe environment.”
For some camps, the initiative provides practical training that has been needed for some time. But, at Camp Havaya in Pennsylvania, camp director Sheira Director-Nowack told the Independent that they have been operating on the initiative’s principles for many years.
“We have people who go by ‘he,’ by ‘she’ and by ‘they,’ as rabbis, teachers, students, educators, campers and staff,” said Director-Nowack of the camp, which is part of the Reconstructionist movement. “So, for us, the sexual harassment piece is something we’ve always discussed, have always had a policy for. I used to work at a camp that did not have that defined as clearly and they had some real challenges. We don’t have some of those challenges here, because it’s very up front and very clear – how you treat all people, not just insofar as gender, but in all areas of inclusion.”
At Camp Havaya, respect is constantly discussed.
“The name of our camp mascot is Howie Bee,” said Director-Nowack. “We talk about ‘how we be,’ using that as a fairly common statement to talk about how we should treat each other with respect, kindness … better than you’d want to treat yourself, you’d want to treat the other person … and, not just as a Jewish phenomena, but as a human phenomena.”
While Director-Nowack acknowledged that, every so often, they run into power conflicts in a relationship, they try to ensure it never gets near the point of harassment.
At Camp Havaya, she said, flirtation is discouraged. For example, there are strict rules as to what clothing is acceptable. Everyone must wear shirts at all times and clothing should be loose fitting. They also have no boys against girls competitions. Instead, all sports are open to everyone and, while everyone swims together, there are rules about appropriate swimwear.
Language and attitude is another area that is closely monitored at the camp. “We don’t use the word ‘broad’ or ‘chick,’ we don’t use a lot of derogatory terms,” said Director-Nowack. “We don’t make jokes at other people’s expense.
“We want everyone to treat each other how they would treat their own family or themselves…. There’s not a constant need for romance or underlying things that go into that modern love thought and, because of that, we don’t see certain behaviours that other places might see.”
The concepts of the #MeToo movement are discussed at camp, as are other relevant topics, like Black Lives Matter and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Our constituency is made up of people who are interested in these things … also, things like respect for people with special needs, inclusivity, race, culture and minorities,” said Director-Nowack. “We don’t talk about these things because they’re hot topics. We were talking about them before they were considered cool to talk about.
“We also give the credit to younger people, because it is them who are changing the verbiage, changing ideas. They are bringing them to us and we are bringing them to camp, because, if camp is a microcosm of society, then we want to be part of that.”
If and when the topic of sex comes up, Director-Nowack said she teaches her staff to turn the conversation back to the camper and ask why he or she is wondering about it.
Camp Havaya has a no-sex policy. If inappropriate behaviour is observed, Director-Nowack said, ‘We don’t punish people for behaviour, but I may or may not ask them if camp is the appropriate place for it. I don’t feel like there’s any place at camp where you could be sexual appropriately, and that’s what we talk about.
“We don’t hook up in the middle of the woods – that’s just not what we do. And, we really don’t have a lot of that. I don’t think I’d kick someone out of camp just because they kissed someone. But, I’d say something like, ‘I just walked passed you kissing … not what I want to see, not OK, not cool.’ If it got further than that, it would depend on the kid, the parent, the discussion and the situation. We’re dealing with human beings and we have an environment that’s not constant.”
Still, staff members do talk with campers about consent, in an effort to ensure all of them are comfortable in their own space at all times.
“Our goal is to create young leaders in the Jewish community who are thoughtful and intelligent, and who are, therefore, going to go out and lead a Jewish life and know themselves,” said Director-Nowack. “We love that some people find their love and their relationships at camp. But, I also love that people find their independence at camp … or that they want to lead a more productive Jewish life without a partner…. We want our kids and staff to leave camp as people who are going to make decisions guided by some basic values.”
Clockwise, from top left: U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, Joe Lieberman, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Cory Booker address attendees of last month’s AIPAC Policy Conference. (photos by Dave Gordon)
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, in addition to other ranking American politicians, spoke of their unwavering support for the Jewish state to 18,000 people at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, in Washington, D.C., March 24-26.
Speech themes revolved around recent rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, the Golan Heights being recognized as Israeli sovereign territory by the United States, and sanctions against Iran. Every official who mentioned BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, condemned it.
Much was said about the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Abdullahi Omar. Her statements – including “Israel has hypnotized the world” and that AIPAC has influenced U.S. policy through money – have been interpreted as antisemitic by some Jewish leaders.
Pence said, “History has already proven [Donald Trump] to be the greatest friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel ever to sit in the Oval Office of the White House.”
Among the pro-Israel bona fides of Trump, Pence said the United States shut down the Washington branch of the Palestinian Authority as a consequence for funding terror; ended tax dollar funding for United Nations-funded Palestinian schools; moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; and recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
“We stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values,” he said.
In addition, Pence talked about the end of the “disastrous nuclear deal with Iran” that has been replaced with “a maximum-pressure campaign” of sanctions, thereby causing Iran’s economy to dip.
“There’ll be no more pallets of cash to the mullahs in Iran,” he said.
In a swipe across the political aisle, Pence said, “It’s astonishing to think that the party of Harry Truman, which did so much to help create the state of Israel, has been co-opted by people who promote rank antisemitic rhetoric and work to undermine the broad American consensus of support for Israel.”
Without mentioning her name, he referred to Omar as “a freshman Democrat in Congress” who “trafficked in repeated antisemitic tropes.”
Former U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s first comments were about what she believes is the UN’s hypocrisy.
“You know, what’s interesting is, at the UN, I can guarantee you this morning it is radio silent,” she said, in reference to the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. “They are not saying anything about Hamas, they’re not saying anything about the lives lost, they’re not saying anything. But, if it was any [other] countr[y], they’d be calling an emergency Security Council meeting.”
David Friedman, U.S. ambassador to Israel, claimed that Trump is “Israel’s greatest ally ever to reside in the White House” and, to those who think otherwise, “please, take a deep breath and think about it some more.”
How America is now sanctioning Iran was one example of an Israel-friendly policy. Friedman criticized the previous administration for paying the Islamic Republic $100 billion in the hopes that country would “self-correct.”
“What did Iran do with all its newly found treasure?” he asked. “Did it build up its civilian institutions? Did it improve the quality of life of its citizens?” Instead, he said, it “doubled down on terrorist activity in Yemen, in Iraq and in Lebanon. It increased its stock of ballistic missiles and it invested in military bases in Syria, on Israel’s northern border.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered an address via satellite, initially planning to take the podium in person, but returning to Israel to deal with the rocket attacks.
“The Golan Heights is indispensable for our defence,” he said of the recognition by the United States of the northern land seized by Israel in the Six Day War, in 1967. “It’s part of our history. When you put a shovel in the ground there, what you discover are the ruins of ancient synagogues. Jews lived there for thousands of years and the people of Israel have come back to the Golan.”
Netanyahu said he thought comments like Omar’s are antisemitic.
“Again, the Jews are cast as a force for evil,” he said. “Again, the Jews are charged with disloyalty. Again, the Jews are said to have too much influence, too much power, too much money. Take it from this Benjamin, it’s not about the Benjamins.”
In the session Canada’s Relationship with Israel, the panel included Liberal member of Parliament Anthony Housefather, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole and former Conservative foreign minister John Baird.
Housefather said he believes Israelis do not think there’s a negotiating partner for peace, but they share some blame in the conflict: “The more they create settlements, the less likely there will be peace … they should think carefully before expanding settlements.”
A questioner asked him when the Canadian prime minister would do something “real” for Israel and Housefather noted that, in recent weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau forcefully condemned the BDS movement in a town hall meeting.
Another audience member asked why the Trudeau government continues to fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. While acknowledging that UNRWA has “curricula problems” that involve “anti-Jewish, anti-Israel comments, misogynistic comments and anti-gay comments,” he said that the $50 million in funding was just.
Housefather said he had spoken with the head of UNRWA and voiced his “concerns at the slow pace they are making changes in the curricula,” but added that their schools make children “a lot less likely to become terrorists against Israel.”
“Yes to helping them with UN aid programs; no to funding their schools,” said O’Toole. And Baird agreed.
On the topic of a peace plan, O’Toole said he “kept hearing from Palestinians their want for a ‘one-state solution,’” while their government “exerts violence, and does not take care of the needs of their people.”
“I think you’ll see from Israeli leaders that they’re prepared to experience real pain [in concessions],” Baird said, but “Palestinians have to stop the incitement” and the “hate-mongering.”
While several candidates for the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination skipped the conference, leading Democratic figures were prominent at AIPAC, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who insisted no one will be permitted to make Israel a partisan wedge issue.
Dave Gordonis a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
T’ruah students help plant trees in the Hebron Hills. (photo from T’ruah)
U.S.-based T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights works in Jewish social justice circles in Israel and North America.
“We work with human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians…. We’ve also worked on introducing rabbis and rabbinical students, and also congregations, to what’s happening in West Bank and more,” executive director Rabbi Jill Jacobs told the Independent.
T’ruah, which supports a two-state solution, offers the Year-in-Israel program for rabbinical students.
“Students study in Jerusalem at various institutions,” said Jacobs, “but they don’t necessarily get to see human rights issues up close. We take them once a month to see a human rights issue on the ground, either in the West Bank with Palestinians, in Bedouin Israeli communities in the Negev, asylum seekers, etc.”
At these sessions, students meet with Israeli human rights and other leaders on the ground. The program is held during students’ free time, separate from their regular studies.
“The goal of the program is to help them develop a rabbinic moral voice,” said Jacobs. “As rabbis, they’re going to be called on to speak about Israel. The question is, how do they talk about Israel as a rabbi? Rabbis talk out of their values, and also are generally dealing with politically diverse communities…. So, the question is, how can a rabbi speak in a way that will push people to listen to perspectives they might not otherwise listen to, [based on] Jewish texts and Jewish values?”
Jacobs recognizes that the information they provide is not comprehensive. Their focus is to give students the opportunity to interact with human beings – to meet Palestinians, Bedouins and others and learn from them what their life experience is like.
“It’s also crucial to us that they are meeting with Israeli human rights leaders,” said Jacobs. “Very often, there’s a dichotomy that suggests that being pro-Israel means supporting the right-wing government of [Binyamin] Netanyahu and that being pro-Palestinian means being against Israel. We’re pro-human rights and we want them to meet Israelis working every single day to push for human rights in their own country because they love their country. We want them to see that there are actually people who are changing the situation.
“We hear a lot from the students that our program gives them hope. Sometimes, they are so hopeless about what is happening in Israel and then they meet people, both Jewish and Palestinian communities, who are trying to change their situation.”
One T’ruah graduate is Rabbi Philip Gibbs, spiritual leader of Congregation Har El in West Vancouver.
“During my year in Israel, during my second year of rabbinical school, I had the opportunity to then be a fellow with T’ruah for their rabbinical student program,” Gibbs told the Independent. “I really appreciated the opportunity, both because, at least the year I was doing it, there was clearly a huge focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, also because the way, in terms of educating about social justice issues in Israel, they were able to show some of the other issues happening – whether it was meeting with Bedouins, talking to some asylum seekers from Africa … really seeing what their home-grown needs are and seeing how it developed into a strong sense of the how they were fighting for many of those needs through the legal systems in Israel.”
Gibbs met with Palestinians who had been displaced from the Jerusalem area after the 1967 war. “We had the chance to hear their narrative,” he said, “highlighting how their status as refugees during that conflict had really come into question because of both the policies of Jordan, as they were occupying the area, as well as some of the motivations of different settler organizations in their attempt to create a much stronger Jewish presence behind the Green Line… I felt like that was more educating us in understanding the way that the nature of a lot of these neighbourhoods had been going back and forth.
“For the Israeli settlers, they felt they were reclaiming a neighbourhood that was Jewish. For the Palestinians that had been living there, their legal status was caught up in layers of legal confusion of having that area under control of many different authorities over the past 150 years.”
Gibbs has not yet had an opportunity to bring this part of his rabbinical education to his congregation directly, but it has definitely played a role in how he shares his perspective regarding, for example, the upcoming Israeli election.
“I’m making sure there’s a deeper sense of having the recognition that a lot of these questions that are coming up, some of these issues are on the minds of most Israelis … but that, no matter what, a lot of the work that human rights organizations are doing, a lot of that is going through the overt legal system of Israeli government.”
Regarding the many Israelis he has met who work for human rights organizations, Gibbs said he appreciated the way their main motivation was a deep sense of trying to make their country the best it can be, noting that every government needs to be transparent in their treatment of their citizens, allowing for a certain amount of criticism.
“That’s something coming from a place of love and it’s the most ideal way to get things done in a constructive way,” said Gibbs. “People can debate about how much people living outside of Israel are supposed to be making any sort of direct intervention, which happens on both sides of the political spectrum, but, I think, there’s absolutely nothing that we should hide in terms of understanding the full array of political work happening in Israel.”
Most people know there is AIDS in Africa but few people comprehend the scope of the pandemic. In the past 30 years, 30 million people have died and 17 million children have been orphaned. Grandmothers have buried their own beloved children and are parenting again, with few resources. Vancouver’s Tikun Olam Gogos, together with other supporters of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, are hosting two pledge events for African grandmothers caring for children orphaned by AIDS.
The first pledge event is For the Love of Grandmothers Fitness Challenge. Here’s how it works: you design a fitness challenge for yourself. The event period began March 8, International Women’s Day, and you must complete your self-challenge by Sept. 8, Grandparents’ Day. Choose something you enjoy and do it harder, faster or more often. Your commitment will help you reach your fitness goals.
You can do it once in a big event or work on it day by day. Then, dedicate your challenge to a grandmother you love. Examples of fitness challenges include the Sun Run, Tough Mudder, spinning 100 kilometres in a day or a month, walking or running three times a week for six months, etc. Whatever you imagine, you can do as part of this challenge – register at fortheloveofgrandmothers.weebly.com.
The second fitness challenge, back for the third year, is Solidarity Cycle, on Sept. 8. This ride is open to people of all ages. It has three track options: the Classic is a 100-kilometre cycle from White Rock to Yarrow. The Easy 50 kilometres goes from the lunch stop in Aldergrove over mostly flat, rural roads to Yarrow, and the 100-kilometre loop starts and ends in Yarrow. Stops along the way are hosted by cheering grandmothers offering refreshments and moral support. There is a celebration at the end of the ride with chili and a corn roast in Yarrow for all participants. Registration for Solidarity Cycle opens on May 1, with training and team-building rides offered throughout the summer. For more information, see solidaritycycle.weebly.com.
For both events, participants set up a secure fundraising page and ask their friends and families for contributions. Funds raised will support vital services and programs, from grief counseling to training for income-generation to support for school fees and uniforms
Dr. Laura Beth Cohen (photo from Dr. Laura Beth Cohen)
Although the Srebrenica genocide – the killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 – occurred more than 20 years ago, it still affects the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina every day, according to Dr. Laura Beth Cohen, director, Kupferberg Holocaust Centre, Queensborough Community College, City University of New York.
Cohen was in Winnipeg on March 8 to speak as part of the Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice: Brown Bag Lecture series. She spoke on the topic Conflicted Walls: Untangling Transitional Justice and Traumatic Memories at Bosnia’s Memorial.
“There was an opportunity to participate in the first fellowship called Summer University Srebrenica and so I decided to go,” Cohen told the Independent. “I learned very quickly – that was in the summer of 2010 – that, to really understand Bosnia, it was not enough to take a course and learn about it from books. It’s very important to understand what’s actually happening there, and the best way to do that is to actually go there. It’s a place with intense beauty, legacy and a wonderful history of different ethnic groups coming together, living in harmony.”
But, the legacy of the last war, which lasted from 1992 to 1995, is still very much present. In fact, she said, the current government is debating about it.
“Here, in America, we talk about the Second World War as if it’s confined to the past,” said Cohen. “But, in many places in Europe, the Second World War, that memory, is very much alive. And, once you’re in an environment like that, it really starts to help you, not only sort out what has taken place, but you can see … because you’re not part of that country, or you don’t belong to that population … you can start to see different ways that those memories of the past are interacting in contemporary life, and are incredibly problematic.”
When Cohen was in Srebrenica, she was taken by how much the memory of the genocide affects the surviving population, how much it is fought over. The country and government are split into two ethnic entities that are a result of the Dayton Accord, which was signed after the massacre in Srebrenica. One side was deemed the perpetrator; the other, the victim.
“It is not a big surprise there are very different perspectives between the sides over what happened in Srebrenica,” said Cohen. “The RS [Republika Srpska] government in the last month has created a new commission on Srebrenica to, once again, reexamine the facts and evidence to determine whether or not genocide took place … even though genocide took place and was proven multiple times, and especially in the international criminal tribunal. So, this debate over what happened and denial over what happened is still occurring within Bosnian society, as well as, particularly, in Srebrenica.”
This, of course, makes it very difficult for the residents of Srebrenica and the region to move forward, she said.
“It’s a place that would really benefit from having a lot of people just step away … and allowing the population to just live, move forward, and gain attention for things that they really need support with – economic relevance, additional support for education, and rebuilding parts of the community,” said Cohen. “But, with the memory so volatile and kept alive, it really overshadows what’s taking place there. You can imagine trying to raise your family, regardless of your ethnicity, in a place where the past is constantly looming, and it’s a grotesque past. How do you bring your children up in that world?”
According to Cohen, the constant and continued fight over the politics and memory of what happened at Srebrenica does not allow people to learn about what happened or why, and that this is preventing coping mechanisms from being put into place; mechanisms that could help stop other massacres from happening.
“We only focus internationally once a year – on July 11, during the annual commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide that takes place at the memorial – so we often don’t understand what’s taking place there the other 364 days of the year,” said Cohen.
“People visit the 9/11 memorial in downtown Manhattan. They visit Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. They visit Kigali Genocide Memorial [in Rwanda]. These memorials serve as an educational component. For local residents and national citizens of these countries, they also serve as places of memory making,” she said.
In Srebrenica, Cohen hopes to eventually see ways of involving the local community in dialogue initiatives that facilitate the creation of memorials, ones that speak to the locals, helping them repair their communities.
“While we, as Jews, have a view of what Auschwitz-Birkenau is, to the people of Poland, it’s a German extermination camp on Polish soil,” said Cohen. “And, to the local people in Oswiecem, which is the Polish name of the town that the camp was built by, they struggle with having that kind of site in their community.”
When it comes to Srebrenica, she said, “We get stuck in the conversation of the politics over the genocide and what happened. What then happens is, a lot of these issues play out at the memorial. Part of this conversation is theoretical, but part of it is to help us understand that these are not static locations. They are very much interactive places, where memories are not only being promoted, but shaped by the larger discourse where they are situated.”
Cohen said the part of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Srebrenica that has always drawn her is “not only the friends I’ve made, but a vibrancy of life in Bosnia that gets lost in the discussion. The culture is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the relationships that people have with each other are beautiful. And, despite all of the horror of the last war, and despite all the history, and the Second World War and before that, it’s a place where there’s a lot of love and a lot of hope. That’s something that keeps, especially, international activist scholars engaged in what’s taking place there … and that, we can’t lose sight of when we talk about all the politics and things that aren’t going well.”