WOODBRIDGE – When Avi Bar-Aharon invited two New Haven area buddies to climb Tanzania’s 19,345-foot Mount Kilimanjaro with him, he had no idea it would be one of the most intense Jewish experiences of his life.

The long ascent up Kilimanjaro, which ended with 24 climbers from ten countries (and their 95 Tanzanian porters and 5 guides) reaching the summit on Feb. 14, actually began ten years ago when the Israeli-born Bar-Aharon and his wife Denise started Make-A-Wish Foundation-Israel, in memory of Denise’s brother, David Spero, a young man who loved and helped children. Spero died at age 28.

[Make-A-Wish Foundation International (www.worldwish.org) grants wishes to children around the world who are living with life threatening illnesses.]

Bar Aharon, who moved here from Israel a few years ago, decided to join the February expedition climbing Kilimanjaro to raise funds for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Jonathan Perkins, a local attorney, answered Bar-Aharon’s offer to join the climb without hesitation.

“I like to travel—I thought it would be a physical and mental challenge, a chance to be with the guys, and a way to do something worthwhile to help sick children,” said the South African native.

Eitan Battat, a Woodbridge businessman, was less decisive.

“I counted 26 real fears and I was upfront about them. I would wake up twice a night—one time thinking I’d go, one time thinking I wouldn’t go!” laughs Battat, who proudly reports, “I buried my fears on the top of the mountain!”

Battat credits Bar-Aharon for his patience and New Haven’s Rabbi Sheya Hecht, who told the men to each bring a tzedakah (charity) box and put in one dollar each morning, with the final dollar being deposited once they returned home from the safe journey.

“These rocks have been waiting for you for 5,000 years,” Hecht told the

men as he offered some pre-trip encouragement. Hecht also accompanied the three men to the Ohel, the gravesite in Queens, New York of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, to pray for a safe journey, prior to their departure.

While the climb was rigorous and required packing lightly, the men were determined to bring Jewish ritual objects. A large percentage of Battat’s more than 1,000 digital photos show members of the delegation praying with siddurim, wearing tallitot and wrapping tefillin at various elevations.

“When we started, the temperature was 85 degrees in the Serenghetti. When we got to the summit, it was 20 degrees below zero—we had to put the tefillin over our jackets,” notes Battat.

A fellow tefillin-wearer on the mountain was Israeli Yonaton Dotan. Dotan, son of the late Israeli entertainer, Dudu Dotan, is the current international spokesperson for Make-A-Wish Foundation. When Dotan was a 16-year-old with lymphoma, Bar-Aharon helped grant Dotan’s

wish—to meet with [then] U.S. President Bill Clinton. “Usually, these meetings are 10-15 minutes long. In this case, there was such good chemistry that the two talked and joked and still have an ongoing relationship,” reports Bar-Aharon.

Dotan presented Clinton with a T-shirt which said, ‘I met Yoni Dotan.’ He loved it and promised Dotan that he would wear it someday. Soon after, photographs captured Clinton jogging, wearing the T-shirt. The photograph appeared around the world in such publications as The New York Times and The Washington Post. According to Bar Aharon, this created major momentum for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Israel.

Eight years later, Dotan, 24, and in remission, is the music director for Israeli radio station Galei Tzahal and an important spokesperson for the Foundation. Dotan completed the climb up Kilimanjaro with his fellow climbers, who all paid their own way and helped raise more than $100,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Toughest day

According to the men, all of whom are members of Chabad of Orange and live in Woodbridge, the toughest day by far was the final ascent to the summit.

They climbed slowly, fighting thin air and lack of oxygen, and were only able to stay at the summit for about 20 minutes due to the cold and thin air.

“We left at midnight and made the final nine-hour climb to the summit. As we got higher, we could feel the pressure in our bodies, it was hard to breathe, and we had to take baby steps through the volcanic ash. We even saw some climbers return before reaching the top. But the best part of getting there was that we made it together, with friends,” said Bar-Aharon.

At the summit, Dotan spoke with Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and he received a letter of congratulations from former President Clinton. Upon reaching the summit, all climbers received a T-shirt with “I climbed with Yoni Dotan” on the front; Dotan, of course, wore the “I’m Yoni Dotan” shirt.

On the journey, an emotional Dotan turned to Bar-Aharon and said, “Eight years ago, I met you and you said, ‘The sky is the limit. Now, I am eating with you, and sleeping in a tent with you, high in the sky over Africa!’

Tella-Jerusalem connection

On Feb. 16, just one day after returning from the summit, the three Connecticut friends were enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the courtyard of the Keys Hotel in Moshi, Tanzania. They had a few hours to kill before returning home and decided to visit some of the remote villages of Moshi in order to get a feel for the extent of the poverty. The three plus Dotan felt fortunate to meet Dr. Fideles Owenya, who drove them to Tella. They first encountered men and women walking three or four miles to the marketplace. They then toured the Tella school, where 50 friendly, curious children greeted them in Swahili. The men toured the school and were shocked by the lack of supplies, including basic sugar.

The men were so moved by the experience that they purchased food for the school and made a commitment to help the school in an ongoing way. They have since started the www.tella-jerusalem.com website, which offers information on the school and seeks donations of money, food and equipment.

As the men look back on their entire two-week experience in Tanzania, they

are convinced of God’s presence throughout.

“God was watching us,” notes Battat.

They recounted how one Israeli woman (climbing with another group) named Galit was to light Shabbat candles on the mountain. Just as itwas time to welcome the Sabbath, the men could not find Galit; they learned that she needed to descend to take care of medical needs. Suddenly, a woman appeared on the mountain from nowhere. It was another Israeli, Limor. They invited her to light candles—the last in a series of unforgettable Jewish experiences high atop Mount Kilimanjaro, deep in the heart of Tanzania.

To donate to Make-A-Wish Foundation International, visit www.worldwish.org. For information on the Connecticut Chapter, call (877) 203-9474.

To donate to the village of Tilla, visist www.Tella-Jerusalem.com.

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

HAMDEN — When Marilyn Monroe converted to Judaism and married writer Arthur Miller, she turned to Rabbi Robert Goldburg, the same New Haven rabbi who was labeled a Communist during the McCarthy era, had a 205-page FBI dossier for his vigorous opposition to the Vietnam War, and would later be arrested in Georgia for marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rabbi Goldburg, known for his strong commitment to social justice, served as rabbi of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden from 1948-1982.

The history of Congregation Mishkan Israel, which at 165 years old is the 14th oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, is now on exhibit at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

“Mishkan Israel 1840-2005: The Story of New England’s Oldest Continuing Congregation,” on display until May 14, features a copy of Monroe’s 1956 “Certificate of Conversion,” photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Mishkan Israel in 1960, and a 10 x 7.5 foot limited edition Ben Shahn silk tapestry entitled “Menorah.” The exhibit also features other historical photos, documents, artifacts and a video that showcase the rich history of Mishkan Israel.

The congregation was founded in 1840, when a group of Bavarian Jews, fleeing economic and social oppression, settled in New Haven. These families opened drugstores, umbrella and corset factories, cigar companies, and dry goods and tailor shops. The congregants were liberal-minded yet traditional in practice men and women sat separately during services, and would-be members had to prove that they kept the Sabbath and observed the dietary laws. Congregants initially worshiped (on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays) over the Heller and Mandelbaum store on Grand Avenue and State Street. By 1849, services were held in the Brewster Building at State and Chapel Streets.

New Orleans philanthropist Judah Touro, best known for his contribution to the synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island which still bears his name, gave a sizable donation — $5,000 which enabled these Bavarian Jews to purchase a building in New Haven.

In 1856, the congregation purchased the Third Congregational Church building, which served as its home until 1897.

The synagogue’s commitment to local and world issues was evident even in those early years. In 1858, Mishkan Israel joined the international protest against the kidnapping and baptizing of a Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, in Bologna, Italy.

A letter from Moses Montefiore regarding the case is on display at the Historical Society exhibit. During the Civil War, congregants served in the Union Army, and the synagogue held special services and volunteered at the local military hospital. In the 1870s, Rabbi Judah Wechsler forged Mishkan Israel’s commitment to interfaith activities with his “no unfriendly words” policy; he preached unity and harmony and respect for religious differences. In the 1880s, under Rabbi Leopold Kleeberg, the congregation provided aid to Eastern European Jews arriving in New Haven.

Following Rabbi Kleeberg’s tenure, the congregation was lead by Rabbi Louis Mann and Rabbi Edgar Siskin.

By the mid-1890s, the temple grew to 190 families, and moved to a larger home on Orange Street. They also embraced the more progressive practices of Classical Reform Judaism. By the 1950s, when the congregation grew to more than 700 families, a building was purchased on Ridge Road in Hamden.

During Rabbi Goldburg’s tenure, the temple became known nationally for its commitment to social justice.

After Rabbi Goldburg’s retirement in 1982, Rabbi Mark Panoff and then Rabbi Herbert Brockman have continued his legacy. Under Rabbi Brockman’s leadership, Mishkan Israel has continued its service to the Jewish community and its commitment to the larger world.

In 1989, MIshkan Israel opened its doors to the Urban Youth Center, a program for inner city middle-schoolers and in the early 1990s MIshkan Israel sponsored the settlement of seven Russian Jewish families in New Haven. The congregation’s work with the community continues today with the Pe’ah Project, a congregant-run garden which provides more than a ton of vegetables each year to community soup kitchens.

“Mishkan Israel 1840-2005: The Story of New England’s Oldest Continuing Congregation,” will be on view until May 14 at the New Haven Colony Historical Society 114 Whitney Avenue, New Haven.
Open Tues-Fri 10-5; Sat 12-5. Visit http://www.nhchs.org or call (203) 562-4183.

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

NEW HAVEN — When Shlomit Daniel set out for school each morning in Ethiopia, she could have never imagined a day when she would be teacher in the United States.

“Many children, especially girls, didn’t go to schoolthey studied at home with the kessim (Ethiopian Jewish priests). My parents understood the importance of education for my four siblings and me,” reports Shlomit. “But it wasn’t easyit was a long walk, and I was usually the only Jew in a class of 40 or 50 children.”

But Shlomit continued her studies and began a long journey that included making aliyah to Israel, serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, going to college, and finally, moving to the U.S.

Today, she lives in New Haven and works with students at Ezra Academy in Woodbridge, the Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy (formerly the New Haven Hebrew Day School) and at New Haven’s Talmud Torah Meyuchad (TTM).

At the day schools, students are referred to Daniel by classroom teachers, and she works with them on academic and social issues. At TTM, Daniel helps instruct nearly 40 children with a range of developmental, learning and social difficulties. And she still finds time to teach Hebrew language at the Slifka Center at Yale University.

“Shlomit has highly specialized skills in the area of special education — something Ezra needs. She has a gentle nature with kids and they respond to her very positively,” said Shelley Kreiger, principal of Ezra Academy. “She is here because the DJE and the Jewish Foundation see this need in the community and have financially supported this position so that Ezra and Hebrew Day can benefit.”

A Success Story

Shlomit grew up knowing her family would one day move to Israel.

“My grandmother’s father was the rabbi of Gondar,” reports Daniel. “We were always learning and thinking about Israel. We didn’t feel ownership of our place in Ethiopia. We knew one day we would make aliyah.”

The Daniel family did move to Israel, spending one year in an absorption center in the north of Israel before moving to a home in Yavneh.

Shlomit learned Hebrew quickly, excelled in the sciences, and received her first choice of jobs in the Israel Defense Forces. Daniel was accepted to an educational corps known as Naarei Rafael (Raphael’s Youth.) In this division, Daniel worked with soldiers who she notes were “impoverished in every way.”

In addition to her military training responsibilities, Daniel also developed curriculum and training material, and she dealt with complex behavioral and emotional problems of soldiers in her division.

“What I loved most is that the Army worries most about chevrah — community,” observes Daniel. “The Army spends money and manpower on chevrahto make a better society. And you become part of that society.”

After serving in the army, she enrolled at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and took courses in the two areas she lovedsciences and education.

“When I was at Hebrew University, I couldn’t stop thinking about my soldiers from their impoverished backgrounds. Why did society wait for the Army to do the job of teaching and helping them? Why didn’t we do that in the schools?” wondered Daniel.

She decided that that was something she wanted to change. She transfered to the David Yellin Teachers College in Jerusalem and received her Bachelor of Education degree in regular and special education.

In Israel she taught Hebrew language to Russian, Indian and Ethiopian immigrants at the Mevasseret Absorption Center outside of Jerusalem and worked with children with emotional difficulties.

In Israel, Shlomit met her husband, Canadian-born, Charles Small, a professor of urban development. Small taught at various Israeli universities before accepting a teaching position at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

While Daniel notes that her transition to America and New Haven was difficult at first, she has settled in and acclimated well both professionally and socially.

“I like to try new things and have new experiences,” she said. “And I’m not afraid to fail.”

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

NEW HAVEN — When David Gelernter writes, “A painting is a form of trapped energy, like a compressed spring or a rock at the top of a hill,” he sounds more like a professor than an artist.

In fact, Gelernter is both.

A professor of computer science at Yale University, best known for his “Linda System,” the basis for many computer communication systems worldwide, and chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, Gelernter also has artistic talent.

His exhibit, “Recent Works: Greek and Hebrew Paintings” is now on display in the Allan and Leah Rabinowitz Gallery of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale through April 15.

With the exception of one lithograph, all of Gelernter’s pieces are mixed media works, which include pastels, acrylics, metal (gold, copper and aluminum) leaf, liquid iron and watercolors.

The 25 pieces in the exhibit, all constructed in the past four years, are inspired by the Bible and Greek mythology, nature, Jewish tradition and the Hebrew alphabet.

Most of the Greek pieces- six paintings and one lithograph – are loosely based on Attic red-figure vases. There are scenes from the Iliad, including Odysseus, Agamemnon and Briseus, and a painting which uses a meaningless Byzantine alphabet. The three males with Hebrew inscriptions are three views of biblical David in battle with Goliath.

Gelernter’s exhibition begins in the stairwell of the Slifka Center with light shining through translucent squares of glass. The first portrait, entitled, “Ha’azinu” (the name of the Torah portion in Deuteronomy) features the word “Ha’azinu,” written in Hebrew letters, against a painted orange background, with a blue butterfly at the center. As viewers ascend the stairs and enter the gallery, they experience portraits which seem to alternate between Hebrew works and Greek works. After “Ha’azinu,” visitors view “Sailing to Byzantium,” followed by “Achein” (“Surely the Lord is in this place,” Genesis 28:16), Study (Greek Warrior), and Leikh L’kha (“Get yourself moving!” Genesis 12:1).

Gelernter notes, “Jewish art is intimately connected to sacred texts. Many of my ‘Hebrew’ pieces are based on the mezuzah, which holds a small parchment sheet inscribed with verses from Deuteronomy; others are based on different Biblical texts–several on the extraordinary, nearly untranslatable passage in which the Israelites are told “you have been shown [in order] to know that the Lord is God”-in other words: you know because you have been shown, not merely told.’ Judaism has always preferred first-hand showing to second-hand telling.”

“Recent Works: Greek and Hebrew Paintings” by David Gelernter is on display in the Allan and Leah Rabinowitz Gallery of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, 80 Wall Street, New Haven, through April 15.

Gallery Hours: Mon-Thurs: 10 am-7 pm; Fri-Sun: 10 am- 3 pm; 203-432-1134; www.yale.edu/slifka).

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