Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israeli counselors share their experiences serving at a Conservative Movement summer camp.

For a special group of Israelis, serving their country continues after their army service ends in North America. A diverse group of Israeli twenty somethings representing different cities and towns, ethnic and religious backgrounds, and political viewpoints, have a unique opportunity to spend two intense, rewarding months serving as shlichim (emissaries or representatives) at various summer camps throughout North America. Shlichim serve at various movement camps as well as JCC, B’nai Brith, independent and unaffiliated camps.

The visiting Israelis serve as bunk counselors and teach art, woodworking, singing and dancing, sports, swimming, boating, ropes, and even cartooning. The shlichim share their Israel with campers and staff, and, in the process, learn a great deal about North American Jewish life and Judaism.

Being selected to be a shaliach is very selective. According to Lianne Novak, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s summer camp coordinator to Ramah camps (Conservative Movement), 5,000 talented Israelis start the process. After an initial phone screening, the number is reduced to 1,100. Approximately 250 are chosen to serve as shlichim to the eight Ramah camps. The shlichim you will meet all served this past summer at the 500 camper, Camp Ramah in New England.

Eyal Chirurg, 23, a second year emissary from Maalot in the north of Israel, teaches comics and cartooning to 8- to 16-year-olds. The soft spoken, very talented Chirurg has already illustrated a children’s book, Illustrated Curiosity, and his sketches and artwork appear on signs and T-shirts everywhere around camp. Camp is a small society and an alternate reality for the campers,” observes Chirurg, who notes that there is no comparable summer camp experience in Israel.

Chirurg enjoys being part of a delegation with such a diverse group of Israelis. It doesn’t matter where you come from in Israeli society: all are accepted, and all are quality, amazing people with the motivation to do good things. This summer, Chirurg lives in a bunk with campers from the Tikvah Program, the 43-year-old program for adolescents with a range of special needs. The special needs program is the most amazing part of camp and the reason I came back!

Sahar Ben Or, 23, a third year emissary from Rishon LeZion, worked for two years as a sports teacher and soccer coach. This summer he worked first as a bunk counselor to twelve-year-olds, and then to fourteen-year-olds. Sahar, perhaps ironically, comes to a summer camp in America for the Jewish experience!”

Here, at camp, we feel more Jewish. When I am at home, I miss the Jewish atmosphere of camp. He enjoys interacting with Israelis he might not otherwise meet in Israel, and he loves bringing Israel to his campers. “The oldest campers learned about such important issues in Israel as immigration, cost of living, and the status of non-Orthodox Jews and they held protests. In addition, I have brought my campers to pray at the andarta, a monument to fallen soldiers, and I enjoy teaching about our Israeli traditions like foods and birthday party games!

Eliana Farber, 21, of Ra’anana, comes from an observant family. She is serving as a counselor with thirteen-year-old girls. She and several distinguished soldiers are permitted to use these two months toward their army service. Farber is somewhat unique among the 50 shlichim; her English is perfect and unaccented since she made aliyah with her parents (from New York) when she was five years old; I like the fact that we made aliyah. I teach my campers that we are a medina olim a country of immigrants. Farber observes, I represent Israel in my daily conversations and interactions with campers, and by just being who I am.

Farber’s experience at a Conservative Movement summer camp has proven both eye opening and challenging. When Rabbi Mitch Cohen (the National Ramah director) told the shlichim that there is more than one way to be Jewish, it gave me the chills! I never heard anyone say it out loud that’s so great. I am so happy to be in a place where that is okay. It is has also gotten me conflicted.

Water front head, Rotem Ad- Epsztein, an eleven year veteran of the mishlochot, which she now heads, views camp as a chance to learn more about Jewish religious practice. She and her husband, Uri, who came from secular Israeli backgrounds, can now share this experience with their nearly three- year-old daughter, Lotem. “At camp she gets Jewish life, Jewish experience, social experience, nature and more….

Rotem is proud of her shlichim. They all come from the rainbow of Judaism and this is great! They present the real situation in Israel. The fact that they all come from different religious they can connect with different shichimi.

Why would a camp invest so much money, time, and effort in bringing shlichim? Rabbi Ed Gelb, Director, Camp Ramah New England proudly reports, We bring Israeli shlichim to camp because the personal connection between Israeli staff and the campers begins a positive life- long relationship with Israel. When our campers journey to Israel, they will often meet up with the Israeli staff and share the experience. Camp also has an incredible impact on the Israelis. For many, the idea of Conservative Judaism was unknown to them and by spending at least one summer at camp they find a Judaism that is accessible and compelling to them. It is hard to say who impacts whom more. Rabbi Mitch Cohen adds, As wonderful as most shlichim are as educators, counselors or sports instructors, by far the greatest impact of their presence in camp is the friendships they create with campers and staff. Having Israelis as good friends makes the connection with Israel very personal and is the most effective way of building strong identification with and support for the State of Israel.

We look forward to the arrival of another exciting group of Israelis next year!

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Despite a first-round loss at the US Open, up-and-comer Julia Glushko says she’s proud to represent her adopted country – and looks forward to better results in the future.

For many of the women in the main draw of the US Open, the path to the two-week tournament was straightforward. For Julia Glushko, an Israeli ranked 160th in the world, the road to her first-ever Grand Slam started many months ago — and ended triumphantly last week, with victories in three tough qualifying matches.

Once at the Open, the 22-year-old’s experience proved a bit of an anticlimax — the Ukrainian-born player put up a tough fight Monday, but lost 7-5, 6-2 in her first-round match against the No. 25 seed, Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.

Despite the disappointing result, Glushko views her participation as a reason for celebration, capping off an extraordinary year of growth for the Modiin resident. In December, Julia (pronounced “Yulia”) won the Israeli national title by defeating Shahar Pe’er, ending the latter’s five-year reign as champion. The victory kicked off a 2012 of tournaments around the world, including the biggest singles title of Glushko’s career: a July win at an International Tennis Federation tournament in Louisville, Ky.

I pay for my travel, mostly from my prize money.  This time, I raised enough money for my coach, Liran Kling, to come.”

Glushko’s US Open appearance was scheduled as the third match of the day, but due to a 2½ -hour rain delay, she didn’t set foot on the court until 7 p.m., when spectators were arriving for a night session featuring Kim Clijsters, Roger Federer and a music performance by “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks.

Wearing tennis whites and a bandage on her left knee, Glushko hit strongly off both her forehand and backhand. Even with her relatively low ranking, members of the crowd clearly knew who she was, chanting words of encouragement — “yallah” (let’s go) and “kadima” (come on) — familiar to any Israeli.

“I am so thankful that people came out—there were a lot of Jewish and Israeli people cheering for me,” said Glushko, who’s fluent in Hebrew, Russian and English.

Despite her loss, Glushko wasn’t disappointed. “It was a tough draw, but I think I did pretty well,” she reflected. “I was ready to play, [and] can learn a lot for the next time.”

Beyond her first Grand Slam experience — following a failed January attempt to qualify for the Australian Open — Glushko’s trip to New York also meant a chance to reunite with her former doubles partner, the Israeli-Arab player Nadine Fahoum. Now a development associate in New York for the Israel Tennis Center, Fahoum, who recently wrapped up her college career at Duke University, sees a promising future for her old  partner.

“Qualifying for the US Open main draw is the first big step to becoming one of the top players in the world,” Fahoum said. “I wish her much success.”

But while Glushko, who ranked as high as No. 10 in the world as a junior, appears to be on her way, challenges lie ahead — particularly financial ones.

Following her match, the 5-foot-7 player spoke with the Times of Israel. An condensed excerpt appears below.

What is it like representing Israel and Jewish people around the world?

It is probably one of the most special things. There are not many athletes from Israel. I am thankful to be able to represent Israel at the US Open.  For the women, it is only me and Shahar in the main draw.

Do you think Israel can produce more top players? What are some of the challenges facing Israel?

There are a lot of Israel Tennis Centers, and a lot of people who play, but it is hard because everyone goes to the army at age 18.  Also, tennis is an expensive sport. The tennis centers work hard to raise money, but it is expensive — traveling overseas, a coach, etc. I pay for my travel, mostly from my prize money.  This time, I raised enough money for my coach, Liran Kling, to come.

There are ups and downs to playing tennis. You are away all the time. It is hard on your body —  I have pain in my knees all the time. It is a hard life, but I love it. I feel lucky. I try not to think about [match results] or money — I just think about working hard and keeping healthy.

“The country gives so much to me, so whatever I can give back, I want to give back.”

What was your experience growing up?  How did you get into tennis?

I was born in the Ukraine and moved to Israel when I was 8. I feel so Israeli! I am happy [my parents] moved, because life in Israel is so much better. We lived in Jerusalem for three years, in [the Katamon neighborhood], near the tennis center, where both of my parents are teachers. I remember so clearly the first time I went to the Israel Tennis Center: It was at night, the lights were on and they let me play — and they coached me –for free. We moved again, to Ramat Hasharon, so I could play tennis there.  I was home-schooled for the last few years of high school, then went to the army.

Can you describe your army service?

I served for more than two years.  I was a sports mitstayen [an elite athlete allowed to continue her career as she completed her army service].  I did three weeks of basic training where I stayed on the base, learned how to shoot a gun and slept in a room with nine other girls. After that, I was able to come to my base whenever I was [not playing tennis]. Serving in the army is important to me: It is one of the basic things of the country — it is special. The country gives so much to me, so whatever I can give back, I want to give back.

(Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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As his new album debuts, the renegade religious rapper tells The Times of Israel why he drastically changed his lifestyle.

Sitting backstage at Matisyahu’s concert in Stamford, Connecticut five days before the July 17 release of his new album, “Spark Seeker,” his father Bob Miller is smiling. Warm up band Moon Taxi has left the stage (as part of the Summer 2012 “Alive@Five” Festival), the sun is going down, the Stamford Town Center is packed and the crowd is cheering.

Matisyahu dances during his set at a summer concert in Irvine, Calif., in this May 2006, file photo. (photo credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello/FILE)

Matisyahu, best known for performing in traditional hasidic garb — black kippa with tzitzit (ritual fringes) swinging under his white shirt — is now dressed in a white T-shirt, black faded jeans, fashionable white sunglasses and green Nike sneakers. For most in the audience this is their first in-person look at his handsome, clean-shaven face. Matisyahu, born Matthew Paul Miller, no longer looks like a Lubavitcher. And he no longer embraces a hasidic lifestyle.

On December 13, 2011, Matisyahu shocked the Jewish world by posting a beardless picture of himself on Twitter, with additional commentary on his website.

This morning I posted a photo of myself on Twitter.
No more Chassidic reggae superstar.
Sorry folks, all you get is me… no alias. When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality — not through books but through real life. At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity… to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth. I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules — lots of them — or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.
Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth. And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry… you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.
— Matisyahu

Many articles and blog posts have pondered the question of who is this new Matisyahu? Many wonder if he is “still religious.” Father Bob confidently reports, “He is the same person he always was. He has always been searching, and he always will.”

Mother Rochelle was also backstage at the Stamford concert, along with their daughter and family friends which included Matisyahu’s fifth grade health teacher who danced with her former student on stage. Ms. Miller was happy that Matisyahu was performing a short 27 kilometer drive from their home in White Plains, New York.

Rochelle enjoys the concert but shares more motherly concerns: The 33-year-old Matisyahu, wife Talia, and sons Laivy (7), Shalom (5), and Menachem Mendel (1), recently moved from Crown Heights, the world headquarters of Chabad Lubavitch, to the Pico Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

“I am extremely sad. I have been to Los Angeles five times since their move in September. Maybe they will move back after two years there!”

The soft-spoken, very forthcoming Matisyahu respectfully notes, “My wife took me there. She wanted to go. She wanted the weather. She’s from New York.”

At first, Matisyahu reports, “I wasn’t necessarily interested in leaving,” but he soon realized, “I wasn’t tied to one place.” Matisyahu consented and the family relocated.

Perhaps an additional benefit of living in Los Angeles is the proximity to Hollywood. Matisyahu will appear in the horror movie, “The Possession,” set to open August 21. Ironically, the now clean-shaven Matisyahu plays Tzadok, a rabbinic exorcist. The movie, which stars Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, is the story of a girl who buys an antique box at a yard sale and is unaware that an evil spirit lives inside. For Matisyahu, acting is a return to his second love — he reportedly always had a passion for acting and was in plays in college.

Matisyahu is still best known for his first love, music. His musical styles include reggae, beat boxing and rap. His current tour, which ends on September 29, will take him and his band across the United States, Canada and Portugal. He continues to play such well known songs as “Jerusalem” and “King Without a Crown,” as well as cuts from his upcoming “Spark Seeker” album.

Matisyahu spoke candidly with The Times of Israel pre-concert from the back of his van, en route from the Stamford Marriott to his tour bus outside the Stamford Town Center. The musician spoke openly about a favorite song on his new CD, his family, and his recent transformation.

How is this different from past tours? Who is your audience?

How is anything ever the same? I go for deep. I have a hard time answering simple questions. The audience is different. We are on tour with the Dirty Heights. It is a younger crowd.

Your new CD “Spark Seeker” comes out on July 17. Are you excited about the release? Do you have a favorite song?

Of course I am excited. I don’t have a favorite song but one I have been performing lately, we’ve been staring off our shows with and the one my record starts with is “Crossroads.” I don’t even remember recording it to be honest with you. And I don’t remember writing the lyrics, but I did feel that when I listened to it, especially after all the changes, and everything that has been going on — I just felt like that it really sums up a lot of what I was feeling.

On “Light,” there was that line — “one tiny moment to shine.” [he is referring to the song “I Will Be Light.”] Looking back on the record, I feel like that was the main lyric of that record and I feel like “Crossroads” every night when I’m starting to sing it. I just feel like it’s perfect, I just feel like it’s right . Sometimes you write a song and it has a certain mood in it, and a feeling in it, and you are not always in that mood. Or that lyric doesn’t always resonate. The song that’s definitely resonating for me now is called “Crossroads.” And it feels powerful every night to go out and to perform it.

How do you deal with life in the spotlight?

I don’t know. How do you deal with it? It’s pretty cool.

You change your appearance — that’s one thing! Do people not recognize you these days?

Not even at my own shows!

When I saw you at the hotel, I didn’t even recognize you. You were wearing blue gym shorts, a blue T-shirt and tennis shoes — you just looked like a regular basketball player. People always grow and change and that’s awesome. Why did you decide to make your religious transformation so public?

The question is how do I not make it anything but public? I didn’t think I wanted to mention it. I wasn’t planning on mentioning it afterwards, with the Twitter thing. But I was going through Twitter and I read that quote [“When the tide comes in I lose my disguise”] — a fan quoted that lyric from “Thunder,” and I was like, “Oh, that’s perfect!”

‘Who is to say what the disguise is?’

Sometimes you write lyrics and it can mean one thing for you and then a year later it can mean a totally different thing for you and at that moment I felt, wow, there is something inside of me even at that point that felt that I was in disguise. There was some part of me even four years ago when I wrote that song that felt one day I’m going to take off my disguise and then, on the other hand, you can say, “Who is to say what the disguise is?” Maybe the other one is the disguise. But in that moment, I felt it was time to reveal panim, the face. So then I was thinking, “People will see me at shows and they won’t get that it’s me — I’m gonna have to mention it. People are going to want to know what’s going on.”

How are you navigating your current level of Jewish observance on the road?

It’s kind of a different thing for me now. There are certain things I am still holding on to strongly, like obviously not performing on Shabbos, not traveling on Shabbos. Kosher. Kosher has been easy for me in this run because we have a chef and he is a vegetarian and he cooks just for me. So that one’s like knocked off. So that’s that. Shabbos is Shabbos.

‘There are so many rules in Judaism, and if you get into them and you get obsessed and you have the kind of life that I have, it can make you a very unhappy person’

Everything else, for the most part, I’m not holding myself to it in terms of the rule aspect of it. It is more about an ideal. Ideally I would like to put my tefillin on every morning and daven mincha and daven ma’ariv [two of the three daily prayer services]. And I would like to say brachos [blessings] and all these things. But I sort of stopped holding myself to it. It is a weight off now I do it when I have the time and it feels right. When I make the time, I am a little bit more accepting, a little more patient with myself maybe than I was in past years trying to fit in putting tefillin on with, like, in the morning when I had to be at a radio station at 8:30… There are so many rules in Judaism, and if you get into them and you get obsessed and you have the kind of life that I have, it can make you a very unhappy person. It can make everything complicated and more stressful than it needs to be, so I kind of loosened the knots a little bit.

How was the transformation for your family?

My one-year-old dealt with it. He had to get used to seeing my face. I think the first time I held him, he didn’t recognize me. But it was very quickly that he got it. I think they look in the eyes. And the feeling and the voice. Maybe more than anyone else my one-year-old son got it right away. No judgments, certainly from him. And then, my other two boys go to Chabad school (in Los Angeles), and I had to warn them and tell them that people might say stuff. We had to have a lot of conversations.

‘More than anyone else my one year old son got it right away. No judgments’

I think it’s given them a whole new take on… everything, because they will want to know. That things are not as simple; life is a little more complex. It is not so clear.

We had a conversation with my son on the way up here that was so interesting, where he was saying that… the whole thing with Jews and non-Jews and the differences and all that. I try to open them up and just give them alternatives. Basically, I just tell them, “When you are raised in a religious family, you learn that there is no alternative. That there is one ultimate truth. And you can see it might come in various shades and colors. At the end of the day there is one truth and that one truth is this.”

I’ve had to talk to my kids and explain that maybe that’s not so. Basically what I tell them is that no one can ever be sure of anything — and in this life, your teachers, parents, yourself — you can have your own ideas, your own opinions, intuitions feelings, etc., whatever it is. But never to be too sure of yourself, and never to be too sure of anyone because, at the end of the day, we don’t know. That was a new idea for them. But amazing conversations — me and my sons.

 (Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com

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Yidstock: The Festival of New Yiddish Music, running in Amherst, focuses on klezmer tradition – and innovationWoodstock 1969, meet Yidstock 2012.

Back in the day, the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in Bethel, New York, may have featured such acts as Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, but today’s Yidstock: The Festival of New Yiddish Music, running July 11-15 in Amherst, Massachusetts, will present a who’s who of musicians from the klezmer and Yiddish music worlds, on the grounds of the National Yiddish Book Center.

“The idea behind the festival is to build on what the Yiddish Book Center has been doing and take it to a whole new level — to program a festival of contemporary Yiddish and klezmer music that draws upon both tradition and innovation,’says festival programmer, Seth Rogovoy, music critic and author “The Essential Klezmer: A Music Lover’s Guide to Jewish Roots and Soul Music” and “Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet.”

Priceless Yiddish books that had survived Hitler and Stalin were being discarded and destroyed

The Yiddish Book Center grew out of the work of Aaron Lansky, a 24-year-old graduate student in Yiddish literature who, in 1980, learned that thousands of priceless Yiddish books that had survived Hitler and Stalin were being discarded and destroyed. American-born Jews were unable to read the language once spoken by their parents and grandparents. Lansky organized a national network of zamlers, volunteer book collectors, to save the world’s remaining Yiddish books.

“We weren’t collecting books for too long before we realized it was just the tip of the iceberg,” recounts Lansky, the founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center and the editor of its magazine, PaknTreger. “We didn’t just lose books, but we lost the constellation of Jewish life — language, literature, music, film and theater.”

The Yiddish Book Center has helped ensure the preservation and rebirth of Yiddish language and culture. The 49,000 square foot center is home to more than 1,500,000 volumes of Yiddish books. More than 11,000 Yiddish titles are now available free of charge online through the Center’s Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, and undergraduate students interested in becoming the next generation of Yiddish language speakers and translators spend their summer learning Yiddish language, culture and history.

‘Through the course of the festival you get a picture of where the music has been, where it is now, and where it is headed’

Yidstock, a more popular front of the center’s activities, will feature such top names in klezmer and Yiddish music as Hankus Netsky and the Hebrew National Salvage, Grammy Award winners the Klezmatics, Josh Dolgin aka “Socalled,” Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars with Eleanor Reissa, and the Michael Winograd Trio. Yidstock will also include a film festival, a klezmer instrumental workshop and a klezmer brunch. Rogovoy will deliver a talk entitled “Rockin’ the Shtetl: The Essential Klezmer.”

“Through the course of the festival,” notes Rogovoy, “you get a picture of where the music has been, where it is now, and where it is headed.”

Hankus Netsky, scion of a klezmer dynasty, one of the original klezmer revivalists, and founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, shares Rogovoy’s appreciation for the Yiddish Book Center.

“The Yiddish Book Center exists because the mainstream world neglected, then discarded, Yiddish literature and everything else too. The revival and revitalization is a major triumph of the last 30 years — this festival celebrates that.” Netsky, who holds a PhD in ethnomusicology and is director of the Itzhak Perlman “Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul” Project (to be released in the Fall of 2012 on Sony), speaks passionately about the themes of “salvage,” rescue and revitalization (he will be performing with a group known as Hebrew National Salvage).

The Klezmatics (photo credit: courtesy)

“We found Jewish culture discarded in the dumpster and are doing what Jewish business people have always done — we are finding a new use for it. My father was in the rag business so I am familiar! We are putting it back into circulation. We are reclaiming it.”

Netsky refers to his work as “salvage ethnography.”

He adds, “Jewish music is the same as Jewish literature — it builds on what came before it and is eminently creative.”

Netsky relates that the entry for klezmer in the 1975 Dictionary of Jewish Music read, “The klezmer tradition died out in the 19th century.”

“Huh?” asks Netsky, “That’s interesting! All my grandfathers and uncles were klezmer musicians!”

In a summer, 2011, PaknTreger article entitled, “But Is It Klezmer?” Rogovoy explores this latest wave of Jewish music, which continues to borrow from many sources. He playfully reports on the types of comments he hears when he exits concerts by performers like the ones who will play at Yidstock.

‘Klezmer has always spoken in the idiom of its time. And that time is now, and the fusion of hip-hop, funk, and jazz is our musical currency’

“If I had a dollar for every time I hear someone saying ‘I don’t know what you call that, but that’s not klezmer,’ I’d be, as the saying goes, a rich man,” says Rogovoy. “I hate to disappoint you, but yes, it is klezmer. And not only is it klezmer, it is part and parcel of the klezmer tradition. Indeed, it is traditional klezmer, because klezmer has always spoken in the idiom of its time. And that time is now, and the fusion of hip-hop, funk, and jazz is our musical currency.”

(Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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