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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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

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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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

’Buy Israeli’ fairs, for shoppers who won’t make the trip to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv this year, are sweeping America

New York — Merchants from Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall had their busiest day in more than a year one Sunday in early May, when 10,000 enthusiastic customers snapped up everything they had to sell. The shopping spree, though, took place 6,000 miles from the beleaguered downtown midrehov where frequent terror attacks have scared all but the bravest customers away. It happened at Kehillat Jeshurun, a modern Orthodox synagogue on Manhattan’s East 85th Street.

Leslie Wolfowitz spent hours at the bazaar, grabbing up T-shirts with Hebrew lettering, Jerusalem souvenir key chains and Dead Sea skincare products. Alana Lewis bought pyjamas for her son and a shul hat for herself. “My only disappointment was that Mr. T’s wasn’t set up to make a shirt for my son, Yakov, with his Hebrew name on it,” she says. Other shoppers bought skirts from Shkalim, paintings from Motke Blum and handicrafts made by elderly Jerusalemites from Yad Lekashish. Busiest was the Israel Poster Center, which did land- office business in posters ranging from pictures of soldiers at the Western Wall to Israeli flowers and trees. “Those two days were equal to four months of business back in Jerusalem,” says Poster Center proprietor Eli Zarini, one of 13 Israeli merchants who flew in for the event. “I work mostly with tourists, and there are no tourists in Jerusalem right now.”

The crowds at the Kehillat Jeshurun (KJ) midrehov were very large almost from the moment that the doors opened at 9am By 11 people were four deep inside, and some merchants had already sold most of the goods they brought with them. Volunteer Ellen Korn estimates that she rang up $5,500 in pyjama sales during her two-hour shift at Sara’s Prints. At another booth, sales of dog tags carrying the names of terror victims brought in over $1,000.

The entire effort – part of a “Buy Israeli” drive by American Jews – was mounted in a matter of weeks by members of the KJ Sisterhood. On the way back from the April 15 Israel Rally in Washington, one woman had noted that her daughter needed a new pair of her favorite Israeli sandals, and couldn’t bear the thought of the empty shoe stores back in Jerusalem. Another suggested a sale involving Ben-Yehuda merchants. Before the bus had reached New York, there was a plan to pay for the plane tickets of some merchants (the sisterhood and the synagogue eventually footed the bill for seven; several others were already in the U.S.). As the wheels really started rolling, the Israeli Economic Mission in New York provided logistic help and advice, and friends in Israel were asked to recruit shopkeepers.

“The merchants were so excited,” notes sisterhood president Riva

Alper. “Mr. T was practically in tears.”

“I thought it was a very lovely concept,” confirms Mr. T owner Jerry Stevenson, a 1960s U.S. immigrant, who spoke to The Report after returning to Jerusalem. “Even over the phone, I sensed the concern; they really wanted to help Israel in some way. And then they came – so many of them, in the rain. And they schlepped their children. With them, we don’t feel alone.”

Zohar Peri, head of the Israeli economic mission in New York, says that one merchant told him: “I had no money to pay my rent, and was about to close. Now I am on my feet again.”

The KJ Bazar is only one part of a new effort by American Jews to support Israel, other than by giving money and attending rallies. And the drive seems to be gaining momentum rapidly. Hanna Kamionki, marketing director for consumer products for the Israeli Economic Mission in New York, says she now gets 10 serious phone calls a day from people asking what their Jewish community can do to help Israel’s economy. Peri adds that his office tries “to make it easy” for fair organizers by, among other things, suggesting the right kind of merchants for each fair. One wealthy Orthodox community is considering an upscale fashion show, he says, while other locales prefer T-shirts and other chachkes.

To date, seven Jewish communities – including Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, and Teaneck and several other New Jersey towns – have scheduled fairs of their own, and Kamionki says that many more appear to be in the works. In Lawrence, N.Y., Stuart Katz, whose Tal Tours agency normally arranges trips to Israel, is organizing a fair sponsored by 20 community schools and synagogues at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway on June 9. Katz expects an attendance of over 10,000, willing to purchase items from merchants from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Safed and other cities.

Would-be bazaar organizers can go for help to Denver, where a grass-roots group of concerned Jews and Christians organized a highly successful fair in mid-April. The Denver group, ActionIsrael, now runs its own website (http://www.actionisrael.org) with a section called Ben-Yehuda Mall Information for Organizers, where interested surfers can pick up the basics and ask questions like “Who pays for shipping?” and “What happens to goods not sold on the day of the fair?” It recently opened an office in Jerusalem to sign up new participating merchants, and plans to seek grants from U.S. foundations to cover overheads like shopkeepers’ airfares and shipping costs.

While KJ was able to pay for plane tickets and put up participating merchants, most communities simply offer publicity, tables and ideas for affordable accommodations in their area. Merchants pay their own fare and shipping, and run the risk of losing money.

The effort, though, is extending far beyond the fairs. About two dozen websites advertising Israeli products for sale in the U.S. have been opened in the last few months (see box). And Boaz Raday, economic attach at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, reports that israelexport.org, the site he set up in mid-April, had 88,000 visits on its first four days. (The biggest problem, Raday says, is that many Israeli companies are not yet set up to do business on the Internet, because they don’t have arrangements with American credit card companies, and because they have not ironed out procedures with customs and shipping.) Beyond that, Peri, who held a senior post at the Trade Ministry in Jerusalem before being sent to New York, deals with a wide variety of requests. A Connecticut interior decorator, for example, called to say that she wanted to use only Israeli materials from now on, and one family called to tell Peri that they had told the planner of their daughter’s wedding to make sure everything, from the grace after meals prayer books to the yarmulkes and even the bottled mineral water, came from Israel. Diamond dealers have reported increased demand for stones polished in Israel.

As part of his intensive effort, Peri says he has hosted so many meetings at the Israeli Consulate in Midtown Manhattan that “the security people want to kill me.” He adds that “so many busy people, Italians and Irish and Jews with and without yarmulkes, they all come.” And he’s particularly proud of the fact that he’s managed to convince several supermarket chains to feature Israeli products.

Revenues at each fair may go as high as $90,000, according to Susan Heitler, a key figure in the Denver group. “Each individual merchant seems to gross between $10,000 and $20,000. Of that total, about half goes to the artisans and companies that supply the goods to the merchants, another chunk goes to shipping costs and insurance, and in most cases the merchant covers his own airfare. And it’s important to stress that the money is spread over many people,” Heitler says.

Raday and Peri, the Israeli economic professionals, try to keep the entire effort in proportion. Says Peri, “It’s very moving when an event like this can help small people, like the yarmulke-maker who now can keep his store open.” Adds Raday, “It may not revolutionize Israel’s balance of payments, but it certainly helps.”

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