Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel got Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I action in Eilat off to a losing start on Wednesday, falling 2-1 to Turkey.

Shahar Pe’er and Julia Glushko lost their singles matches to open the day before teaming up to win the doubles encounter.

Israel will be back in action on Thursday when it faces Estonia before coming up against Croatia in its final Pool C tie on Friday.

The group winner will play-off against the winner of Pool C for a place in the World Group II playoffs in Eilat on Saturday, while the bottom-placed nation will play-off to determine relegation to Europe/ Africa Zone Group II in 2017.

The stars seemed aligned and the script already written by the time Pe’er, ranked 189th in the world, took Center Court on a sunny, warm, slightly breezy Wednesday for her evening session match against Turkey’s Ipek Soylu.

Despite Soylu’s slightly better ranking of 161, Pe’er is nine years older, has Fed Cup experience, and reached a career high of 11th in the world.

Pe’er also had the crowd on her side, with school children from Eilat filling the stands and cheering, “Let’s go Shahar, let’s go.”

Soylu got off to a quick 3-0 lead until Pe’er hit her groove, regained composure and won the first set in 50 minutes, 7-5. However, Soylu went on to win the second set 6-3 and the decisive set 6-2 to claim the match.

Israel’s No. 1 Glushko (No. 126) took the court under the lights versus Caglia Buyukackcay (142). Shouts of “El, el Yisrael” and “Let’s go Julia, let’s go!” helped Glushko get off to a 3-2 lead, but she could not sustain the rhythm in falling 7-5, 6-3.

The evening ended with the Pool C doubles match between Turkey and Israel, with Pe’er and Glushko partnering to take on Buyukakcay and Basak Eraydin.

After trading back-and-forth 7-5 sets, Israel clinched the win with 6-4 in the decisive set.

The Arkia Airlines gate and flight attendants at Ben Gurion Airport hardly realized there was a major international tennis tournament taking place in Eilat this week.

Yet, professional women tennis players from 14 countries, as well as coaches, umpires, members of the media and International Tennis Federation staff members have all congregated at the Municipal Tennis Center in Eilat, home of the Fed Cup 2016 Europe/ Africa Zone Group I tournament.

Tzipi Obziler, the Israeli captain, is a former Fed Cup player, representing Israel from 1994 to 2009. Israel’s team is coached by Sandra Wasserman, a former member of the Belgium Fed Cup team who reached a high of 48 in the WTA rankings as a player.

Obziler acknowledged that “it’s been a while, but to be a part of the Fed Cup team for the 17th year and first time as a captain means a lot to me. To hear again the national anthem, to wear again the Israeli flag on the back are very emotional things for me and I can only think about doing the best we can on and off court at any time.”

The tournament features two daily sessions through Saturday.

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Original Article in The New York Jewish Week

Eight brave young adults with disabilities from across the United States traveled to Israel over winter break as part of Ramah Israel Institute’s Tikvah Ramah Israel Trip. Most of this year’s travelers are current participants in or recent graduates of the various vocational training programs at Ramah camps. They are in transition to the world of work and, in some cases, moving from their parents’ homes to other living environments. Their itinerary included many of the sites and experiences of a “standard 10-day Israel trip” and a whole lot more.

Ramah offers a Tikvah Israel trip every two years.

This year’s trip, the fifth to date, included must-see destinations such as the Kotel and Har Herzl in Jerusalem, Independence Hall and Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv, Har Bental on the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. Like previous trips, this trip also took into consideration the unique needs of young adults with disabilities.

In planning Tikvah Israel trips, we create opportunities to help participants gain experiences navigating the world, including self-care, independent living, group dining, food preparation, shopping and more. The unique itinerary masterfully weaves tourist attractions with opportunities to socialize with Israeli friends, often in their homes, and experience Israel through all senses.

A day touring the Old City of Jerusalem, for example, was followed by the group going to various restaurants to order food and dine in small groups. For some meals, we went to (kosher!) food courts at shopping malls and made decisions about what we wanted, within our 40 shekel per person budget. Other days, we purchased an assortment of picnic ingredients and made lunch ourselves.

A trip to visit friends for dinner in their Beit Shemesh home one Thursday evening was preceded by a visit to a large supermarket, where we observed people shopping for Shabbat. We divided into committees, brainstormed foods we might serve guests at a Friday night oneg Shabbat, and went down the aisles in search of the items. We then used Israeli money and interacted with the sales clerks as wepaid.

On visits to homes of friends in Aseret and Kibbutz Alumot (overlooking the Galil), participants learned to bring a host gift, to navigate buffet lines and to have conversations around a big table. We sometimes ate outside under a grapefruit or avocado tree, and we learned that Israeli toilets have two flushers — to save water!

In Givat Zeev (Jerusalem), we serenaded our host, Avram, a longtime advisor in our vocational training program at Ramah New England, and his bride to be, Liron, with singing and dancing. (We returned to the U.S. two days before their wedding.)

While some participants took in much of what our excellent tour guide, Rabbi Ed Snitkoff, Director of Ramah Israel Seminar, shared with them through explanations, stories, songs, and visuals, others connected with Israel through many handson experiences. We baked pita bread on a taboon (outdoor oven) and picked hydroponic lettuce at Kibbutz Tzuba before taking a tour of their accessible nature area.

We visited and played with guide dogs in training at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved; we picked beets as part of Leket Israel, The National Food Bank. Our hands turned purple from beet juice, we got mud on our shoes and we interacted for more than an hour with a lovely Birthright group who also came to pick beets. Some participants connected with Israel through climbing into caves at Beit Guvrin and helping excavate at the archaeological “Dig for a Day.” Others enjoyed planting a large olive tree at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, just outside the Knesset.

A highlight for some participants was spending half a day working in the zoo and farm at Kibbutz Shluchot. Some used pitchforks to bale hay; others recycled food and vegetables from the dining room to be used as feed for the farm animals. Some of us actually had the opportunity to feed monkeys; others gathered eggs. Everyone enjoyed a relaxing pre-Shabbat visit to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and a make-your-own picnic lunch on the grass overlooking the ducks and baboons.

Some meals were opportunities to enjoy delicious food while also seeing the amazing talents of people with disabilities. At Jerusalem’s Shekel Café, we enjoyed lunch prepared by workers with disabilities. We had a similar experience in the café of Beit Uri, in Givat Hamoreh in Afula. Beit Uri is home to 110 Jewish and Arab children, youth and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Going to Israel during a period of tension, uncertainty and occasional random violence can be unsettling. But participants on the Tikvah Ramah Israel Trip remained upbeat as they took in the traditional Israel trip sites, met Israeli friends in their homes, worked the land and ate delicious kosher food. These eight brave Ramahniks who happen to have disabilities are proof that people with disabilities — like all people — are capable of connecting with Israel on a very deep level.

Participant Ezra Fields-Meyer sums up his experience as follows: “The Israel trip I went on was great! It was so much fun! It was the best opportunity I have had in a lifetime! I loved going to the Biblical Zoo, Cinema City, the Kotel, the museums, the kibbutz, and much more!”

Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director, observes, “These trips are so wonderful, not just because of the inspiration it they provides for the participants, but also as a statement that providing inclusive options for travel to Israel is not only possible but essential.” Rabbi Ed Snitkoff notes, “After guiding and teaching in Israel since 1980, I do not recall feeling as inspired as I do now, after taking part in this trip. What an amazing experience this was, to see Israel, God, Ramah, the Jewish people, and everyday life, through the eyes of incredibly special people.”

We look forward to our next Tikvah Ramah Israel Trip in two years and to a Tikvah Ramah FAMILY Trip this December. For details, please contact Howard Blas, National Ramah Tikvah Director, at howard@campramah.org. For more information about Ramah Israel Institute’s programs for congregations, schools, and families, contact Moshe Gold, Director, atmoshe@ramah.co.il.

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by Aaron Herman

How do you you create a meaningful Israel experience for young adults with special needs? Video blogger Aaron Herman spoke with Covenant Award winner Howard Blass, Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England, Tali Cohen, Director of Tikvah Vocational Services and participants about their unique Israel experience.

The Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England is an eight-week overnight camping program for 60 campers with special needs that is integrated within a summer camp for 800 typically developing children. As Director, Howard manages four separate special needs programs, including a full-time overnight camp, a Vocational Training Program, a Camp Employment Program, and an Inclusion Program.

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Original Article in Jewish Ledger:

Every year, I approach Kosherfest with a healthy dose of both excitement and skepticism. How can there possibly be anything new in the world of kosher, I wonder? But there always is. And this year’s Kosherfest did not disappoint.

Kosherfest 2015 – held in the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey in mid-November — marked its 27th year with an event featuring 400 booths and 300 new products. The more than 6,000 who passed through the doors of the two-day represented just about every area of the kosher food industry — chefs, cookbook authors, restauranteurs, grocery and specialty store owners, buyers, distributors, caterers, representatives of summer camps, nursing homes, kosher supervision agencies. and manufacturers of products from organic chicken to mock shrimp, knishes to falafel balls, chocolates to wine and liqueurs.

Simply put — kosher is big business. According to a 2015 report by Lubicom Marketing Consulting, there are 12,350,000 kosher consumers in the United States (not all of whom are Jewish), and 205,000 kosher certified products manufactured by 11,400 kosher companies and plants. Also, Lubicom reports, 3,400 products received kosher certification in 2015 alone.

Here are some of the new products featured at Kosherfest 2015:

Two new brands of hummus surfaced at Kosherfest 2015. Mediterranean Chef representative, Eyal Schmerling, was giving out samples of its matbucha, pesto sauce, roasted pepper strips, cooked beets, and various hummus flavors. Schmerling boasted that his products have “fewer preservatives and a 65-day shelf life.”   Meditteranean Chef, which according to Schmerling has been a fixture in Israel for 35 years, is now based in Lincoln Park, N.J. Also new to the hummus market is Fountain of Health. Founded in 1990, Fountain of Health is just now hitting the U.S. market. With unique hummus flavors such as sesame ginger, roasted beets, caramelized onions and chipotle.

RC Fine foods showed off the company’s various gluten-free soup bases; and Glutzero of Helsinki, Finland featured fresh gluten-free fetuccine and other pastas. Healthy snack products on display included Amrita’s five flavors of energy bars — all raw, peanut and tree nut-free and grain and wheat free. A man sampling both a cranberry raisin and chocolate maca bar was overheard telling the Amrita rep, Alex Alam El-Din, “This is the best product I tasted in the show.” He was delighted to learn that the product is currently sold at Whole Foods. Another delicious, healthy snack product on display was Matt’s Munchies, the premium fruit snack. Based in Santa Ana, California, Matt’s Munchies comes in eight flavors.

Nancy Kalish, the gregarious owner of Pure Genius blondies and brownies – a vegan delight that is both gluten- and nut-free, said, “We launched just five weeks ago and received our OU kosher certification practically on the way to the show!” adding, “I have an unbelievably terrible sweet tooth. When I had kids, I had to find a healthy treat that tastes good.”

Other sweet new products include gourmet soft caramels in five flavors from Shay’s Chocolate (my personal favorite: sea salt and espresso) and chocolates by CocoArt Artisan Milk Chocolates. According to the CocoArt CEO Yoseph Schwartz, the company boasts 26 chocolate products. He thinks they’re all winners – but the one that garnered the best feedback thus far, he admits, is orange creamsicle.

There was no shortage of wines and liquors at the show, with the countries of Argentina, Italy and Israel each manning large pavilions. Odem Mountain Winery of Golan Heights was on hand offering samples of Alfasi Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot. Michel Murciano, owner of Hevron Heights Winery, was offering samples of various wines from his vineyards. When the Ledger asked how he planned to handle the European Union’s new policy requiring special labeling on products “made in the territories,” Murciano said, “I called the printer to make 1000 labels which say, ‘Achtung Juden” (Caution, Jews). For me, this is the same thing the Nazis did [to the Jews].”

In addition to a slew of new products introduced by new manufacturers, many of the veteran kosher companies — like Gold’s, Gabila’s Knishes, Mansichewitz and Empire Kosher – proved that they’re still on the grow by introducing a long line of new products. Empire, for example, unveiled a brand new line of organic chickens and soups.

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