Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

When it comes to our children’s education, most of us accept the sad fact that what we get is what we get. But once in a while, we have an opportunity to step back and assess what our children actually know. As was the case when many kids stayed home during the Scud missile threat in Israel, or were off on Purim (as they will be again on Passover).

What wonderful opportunities to have a conversation with your kids. Yes, they have heard of William Shakespeare. No, they still don’t know their multiplication tables, or why the “q”s in Iraq and Qatar don’t take “u”s after them.

If I’d had a hand in writing the civil defense booklet handed out to Israelis before the Iraqi crisis, I might have suggested adding a PC to the list of items that might go into the sealed room. It’s a good way to keep antsy kids entertained and educated. And a fine place to start might be with an unlimited supply of word puzzles at http://www.puzzlemaker.com Simply put in a list of words – the names of the 10 plagues from the Haggadah, or the Hebrew months – and it generates word searches, crossword puzzles or jumbles.
By far the most comprehensive educational site on the Internet I’ve found is http://www.edhelper.com with 11,443 lesson plans and 5,000 free worksheets. There are more math, reading comprehension and spelling worksheets than your elementary school child will ever need. Also check out http://www.teachers.net The article on Arab-Jewish coexistence is part of an interesting lesson plan on “Islamic flags over the Temple Mount,” recalling a day in 1099 when “Jews and Muslims fought and fell side by side, defending Jerusalem from a common enemy,” the Crusaders.

Not sure where to find Qatar or even Kuwait on a map? Check out the large selection of maps of regions, continents, U.S. states and more at http://www.teachervision.com or at http://www.geography.about.com

If you’re concerned your children are losing ground on their Jewish education, you can access multilingual word searches, a Jewish trivia database, Jewish coloring books, an Israel geography game, and tons of ready-made puzzles by visiting the Jewish Education and Entertainment link on http://www.morim.com Or, go to http://www.akhlah.com for overviews of the weekly Torah portions, Jewish holidays, Hebrew alphabet and Bible heroes.

While http://www.caje.org has a curriculum bank free to members only, there are some useful freebies on the site as well, like “Terrorism, A Discussion Guide,” at http://www.caje.org

Who knows? After all this time spent learning together, you may wish to become a “home schooler.” Find information on the Jewish Home Education Network (http://www.snj.com or http://www.educate.org.uk in England; and in Hebrew for Israelis, or http://www.homeschool.org.il or http://beofen-tv.co.il

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Three special needs students came to Israel last week to share a message of hope and support for Israel.

Simone Rosenzweig reports: For three extraordinary young men who visited Israel from February 12 through 24, the fact that others were scared to visit now only fueled their desire to come.

The young men are all members of Camp Ramah in New England’s Tikvah Vocational Program, a project designed specifically for developmentally disabled young adults. During the summer, they spend eight weeks at Camp Ramah, where they learn vocational and independent living skills and focus on self-image, social functioning, and Jewish communal membership.

The three were accompanied by the Director of Camp Ramah in New England’s Tikvah Program, Howard Blas, who was also the trip’s organizer.

During a lunch break in Jerusalem’s Old City, Blas explained that this year’s trip is a continuation of a program that first began about 15 years ago. During that first incarnation, the Tikvah Program took its special needs campers on seven trips to Israel over 10 years. The Tikvah Program’s Israel Trip ended when its directors, Herb and Barbara Greenberg, made aliya to Ra’anana four years ago.

Blas recalled that when he took over as head of the Ramah New England’s Tikvah Program three years ago, reinstating the Israel trip became a top priority. Neither the current Palestinian conflict nor the threat of war with Iraq could derail Blas’s plan.

“I’d been thinking of bringing back the trip since I took over. Maybe any sensible person would postpone it, but I really wanted to bring them now,” Blas explained. And so, with the help of Camp Ramah’s Israel Program, Blas put his plan into action.

“Part of the decision was to make the trip precisely now, to make it symbolic. There are high schools backing out, and even Ramah had to cut back on its Israel programs because people are scared to come, but here we are with a special needs group,” Blas explained. “Really, it’s bravo, all the credit to the parents. Even people they know in their communities don’t know why anyone would come to Israel now. I was worried that parents would call and say ‘We’re out of here, our child isn’t going.’ I was checking my phone and e-mail every day, expecting cancellations but in the end they felt it was important and allowed their sons to come.”

In the days proceeding the trip, one mother sent Blas almost daily warnings from the United States’ State Department regarding travel to Israel, but she still allowed her son to come. “She just wanted me to be aware of the situation,” Blas explained. To keep parents abreast of the trip’s progress, Blas and the Ramah Israel staff sent them daily e-mail updates, complete with digital pictures.

Although this year there were more staff members than Tikvah campers on the trip (in addition to Blas, the group included tour educator Dvora Greenberg, counselor Maya Freedman, an armed guard, and a bus driver), Blas hopes they will be able to build on this year’s success and bring more campers next year. Despite their friends’ doubts, this year’s group is already eager to sign up again for next year.

In between bites of bagel sandwiches, the Tikvah program participants eagerly explained their reasons for coming and the reactions they received when they announced their plans.

Jeremy Jacobson, a 19-year-old participant from the Washington, DC area, said, “My whole family is jealous that I got to come. I have a really Zionist family. My brother organizes pro-Israel rallies at the University of Michigan. Ever since my first trip to Israel (for Passover 2000) I wanted to come back, and I followed through on it. In the United States you don’t find people in the malls. Terrorism has conquered people. Me, Jason and the other people on this trip are scared, but we don’t let it stop us from coming here. If we want to have fun, we’re not going to let terrorism stop us.”

The trip is Jason Belkin’s first. The 20-year-old from Westchester, NY said, “My parents weren’t as in favor as I was, and even my teachers thought I was crazy for coming at this time.”

But the incredulity he faced only made Belkin more excited about coming and filled him with a sense of purpose. He decided to photograph everyone and everything he could in order to be able to show those who questioned his plans what life here is really like.

“When I get home, of course I will speak about my trip,” he said. “People will be asking questions left and right. I want to tell them that the media lies and this area is really quite safe. I don’t even know which country is safer now, America or Israel.”

Belkin’s shutterbug tendencies influenced Jacobson as well. “I already have five rolls of film to show to my class and my family. Maybe I’ll even bring them to camp and to my Hebrew school. The rabbi in my synagogue may even have me speak about my experience in Israel.”

In addition to touring and sightseeing, the trip included a dinner with many of the Israelis who came to Camp Ramah as delegates last summer. Belkin had spent the summer working closely with an Israeli carpenter, who paid him a surprise visit at the dinner.

When rain cancelled the group’s planned trip to Latrun one Friday, the young men stopped by Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital instead. At the hospital, they blew up close to 50 balloons, attached ribbons to them, and distributed them to patients in the pediatric and geriatric wards.

Jacobson noted that the patients, “thanked us because they were very thrilled to have someone give them a balloon. It made me feel very good inside. It was a great way to start off Shabbat. The reactions I saw were like ‘wow.’ It was a very powerful moment for me.”

In addition to questioning some of the young patients and their parents about the political situation, the Tikvah Program visitors began to photograph some of the hospital’s empty beds in order to show friends back home that the hospitals are not constantly packed with terror victims and that Jerusalem is not as dangerous as they imagine.

All three Tikvah Program visitors hope to speak about the trip at camp this summer and use their numerous pictures to encourage others to come.

“These guys will go back as delegates and tell people what’s going on here,” Blas explained. Jacobson added, “After I leave, I don’t want to stop coming back because I love this place.”


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Original article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Sarajevo: Dating from 14th-century Catalonia, the Sarajevo Haggadah made its way via Italy to Bosnia, where it was acquired but kept hidden for safety by the national museum in 1894. It was secreted away from the Nazis by a Muslim professor, and survived the Bosnian war of 1992-95. Now, through the graces of the United Nations Trust Fund, the haggadah, its 109 pages handwritten on bleached calfskin — a small wine stain on one of its pages, a small child’s handwriting on another — has gone on public display for the first time at Sarajevo’s National Museum. It is housed in a climate-controlled room shared by manuscripts of Islam and Orthodox Christianity. “That’s proof that here not only we can live together, but we used to live together for centuries and hope to continue to live together,” Jakob Finci, head of the country’s Jewish community, told the Associated Press. “The story of how the haggadah was saved during its long history has become almost a legend here.”

Minneapolis: Under the terms of a $1.1 million settlement of a lawsuit charging anti-Semitic discrimination and retaliation against those opposing anti-Semitism, St. Cloud State University will pay over $300,000 to 31 faculty members (three will share $265,000) and establish a Jewish Studies and Resource Center. It will also require anti-Semitism awareness training for faculty, and other procedures to redress claims of prejudice on campus. The suit claimed that administrators tried to dissuade students from taking courses by Jewish professors, and denied Jewish faculty promotions and equal pay. The school will spend up to $125,000 a year for five years on the new Jewish center.

Miami: Miami Heat basketball fans will now be able to enjoy glatt kosher hot dogs, knishes and water at non-Saturday home games at the American Airlines Arena. The Toronto-based Olde Spadina Avenue company, which runs the kosher food cart at the Arena, also has stands at Pro Player Stadium, home of football’s Miami Dolphins and baseball’s Florida Marlins, and at the Miami Convention Center.

Riga: A municipal committee has finally agreed to note the participation of Latvian security police and Riga city police in the murder of 30,000 Jews in Rumbula, outside the Latvian capital, in the fall of 1941, in an inscription on a newly unveiled monument on the site of the murders. Latvian President Vaira Freiburga helped solve the impasse that arose following the committee’s repeated refusal to accede to the Jewish community’s request that the role of local Latvian collaborators be mentioned in the commemoration.

Prevlaka, Croatia: A group of Israeli investors is planning to invest $110 million in a luxury hospital and rehabilitation center with an attached marina, in southern Croatia, on the Adriatic peninsula of Prevlaka. Local tourism authorities are hoping the center will become popular amongst celebrities, royals and VIPs. It is estimated that the complex, which will include 40 operating theaters and hundreds of private rooms, will be built within the next five years.

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515 Amsterdam between 84th and 85th Streets (kosher) Tel.: (212) 787-6008, http://www.alibabany.com Yemenit Israeli Moshe Harizy came to New York 19 years ago, opened a stationery store, and started an Upper West Side Yemenite-style minyan, where he graciously served three free meals every Shabbat to anyone interested. When the Staples office-supply superstore moved in a few blocks from his shop, a local rabbi encouraged him to open a shwarma place instead.

“Food is something spiritual,” says Alibaba’s Harizy, who quotes Torah verses and discusses Kabbalah as my 3-year-old daughter and I sample a wide range of Yemenite dishes. Harizy, who imports the freshest spices from Israel, Canada and Europe, prepares such childhood favorites as jachnun (rolled oven-backed dough served with crushed tomatoes, chiles, and a recommended hard-boiled egg) and kubeh (meatballs wrapped in semolina dough), dishes he perfected out of necessity – “Mother was sick all her life, so we learned to cook,” he says.

“Can I ask you what this is?” a curious customer asks as I savor my melt-in-your-mouth flaky-dough melawah with tomato pure ($6.95). I decline the hard-boiled egg, also recommended for this dish. I move on to the mejadarah, a rice-and-lentil mixture topped with fried onion slivers ($2.95, $5.95 or $8.95, for a single, double or family portion) and habis (fava beans stewed with cumin and soaked with tehinah, humus and egg). They are delicious, as are the matbuhah (cooked tomatoes, peppers and garlic) and shakshukah (eggs, fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce and green peppers).

At the year-old Alibaba, an intimate 12-seat space strategically located in the heart of the the Upper West Side, with its young Jewish population, you can also just grab a quick felafel ($4.50 in a pitah; extra $1.50 in a lafa, a large round Mideastern bread) or shwarma ($6.95) and heed the warning on the door: “Come, Eat and Go!” But if no one is clunking you with their backpack or dripping tehinah on you as they return to their table from the free, all- you-can-eat spicy salad bar, you are welcome to read the newspaper and sip a mint tea.

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