Sunday, November 29, 2009

Celebrating the Past, Celebrating the Future

After all the lousy news in the past few days (I don't have to go into it, I'm sure. Just read the internet or open a paper.), tonight was an UP in my neighborhood.
A lovely Bat Mitzvah girl celebrated her big night with an international affair. I found myself sitting in "Bolivia" while other friends were in "Canada" and "Costa Rica". Flags from different countries decorated the blue and white tables. It took me a while to figure out (actually, my friend had to tell me) that the countries represented those that voted in favor of the partition of the State of Israel 62 years ago on November 29th.


Someone at my table mentioned that she heard on the news that if the nations of the world would have voted today, the State of Israel never would have been created.
Quite possibly, but they didn't vote today. They voted 62 years ago, and B"H, there was reason then to dance in the streets. Even though 78% of the British Mandate went on to become Jordan, while the Jewish State was left with slivers of land, there was still reason to celebrate. After 2000 years, we were finally a nation with a land of its own once again.
Now it's 62 years later and Yael Pessin is a Bat Mitzvah. She could have chosen any theme for her special simcha, but she chose to recall that day on November 29, 1947 that Hashem made a miracle for Am Yisrael through the most unlikely source, the United Nations.
We've come a long way since then. G-d has fought our battles, and blessed our people.
Today's news seems blacker than ever - the lives of our people are threatened, chas v'shalom, by the imminent release of 1000 mass murderers, and the lives of our pioneering towns are threatened, G-d forbid, by the imminent freeze (read halt) to construction in Judea and Samaria. But we've still got a reason to dance. It's 62 years since Israel was partitioned and we've got six million Jews living here from north to south, east to west. We've built businesses and museums, yeshivot and universities, parks and houses of prayer.
Bibi and Barak can do what they like, but ultimately, G-d runs the world, and everything He does is to benefit the Jewish people.
Despite today's threats to our existence in Yo"sh, IY"H, our hilltops will one day be covered with Jewish children at play, and we will thank Hashem for bringing us through these dark days.


Every time a Jew comes HOME to Israel, he is affirming Hashem's promise to Avraham, the eternity of the Jewish people in their land. Thousands of Olim (immigrants) return to Israel every year, but few with as much pow and pizzazz as Efratian Zahava Englard.
Active in her community and the One Israel Fund, living a fabulous suburban life, Zahava moved her family to Judea to live our National Dream.
Never one to ride off quietly into the sunset, Zahava documented her departure from America and the exciting details of Aliyah, as well as her life as a certified Israeli. Her new book, Settling for More, is a scream and an inspiration.

Zahava could have settled into her suburban life in Efrat, put her feet up and watched the goldfish all day, but since her Aliyah she has been active both in her town and in the settlement enterprise. Olim like Zahava will contribute to the strengthening of Israel and its people!
To get your copy of Settling for More, contact .
In addition to launching her book tonight, Zahava included the great projects of the One Israel Fund. One Israel's latest campaign, IY"H, will benefit our soldiers.
One Israel is raising funds to provide a shluker (water pouch) for IDF combat units in order to give soldiers an additional three liters of water in the most comfortable and portable way. To find out more about sponsoring a shluker, see .
Kol hakavod to Yael and Zahava for remembering the past and celebrating the future of the Jewish people.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Community Quilt

How do you change a neighborhood of new neighbors into a community? The Mishkan Tzipora Synagogue on Efrat's Zayit Hill did it in an innovative and yet old-fashioned way - by making a COMMUNITY QUILT.
Remember the old quilting bees, where pioneer and small town women sat around embroidering and chatting together? Well, that quilting circle created lifelong friends and a supportive group of women that were tied to one another from then on. The women of Mishkan Tzipora initiated the same project, and hope for the same results.
When the men of the Zayit's Mishkan Tzipora synagogue prayed in their new shul for the first time, the women (led by Zayit residents Dena Lehrman and Amy Kirshner) wanted to create something that would unite all the new families, and express their new-found attachment to their synagogue and their community.
Amy came up with an idea for each family to donate something personal to the shul, and that idea evolved into the quilt idea. Dena and Amy met with craftswoman and quilting professional Debra Walk and further developed the project. About 35 women embroidered squares that had to do with the Seven Species (especially the zayit - olive), the mitzvot (commandments) and personal ideas.
They began with some quilting workshops, led by Debbie Walk (, Dena said that the process, and those quilting-get-togethers were just as important as the results - fabulous
Everyone in Mishkan Tzipora is very proud of the magnificent quilt. The families that participated look on their squares with great pride. Children study the quilt and its intricate patterns during services on Shabbat.
Mishkan Tzipora has doubled in size since the project began. Now there are about 80 member families. New families that wish to participate are encouraged to contact Dena Lehrman (993-4516) or Amy Kirshner (993-8002).
Voices TV took at close-up look at the quilt itself and talked with Dena, Amy and Debbie about the process of creating this beautiful piece of art. Take a look - (English)

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Fire stations in Gush Etzion/Efrat, Karnei Shomron, Binyamin and the Jordan Valley closed today. Firefighters from those stations will be reassigned to nearby fire stations. That means that the response time to a fire or emergency would go from only a few minutes to 30 or 45 minutes. It could also mean the difference between losing one's home, or even, G-d forbid, losing one's life.
The fire stations, each with only one firefighter on site, were closed on the decision of the national firefighters union, because one firefighter at a station is a precarious situation. Having one professional firefighter (and volunteers) answering the call of an emergency endangers both the firefighter and the citizen in trouble.
In the region of Gush Etzion/Efrat, Fire Chief Roni Yaacov mans the station alone. He has many volunteers, who he stated, are dedicated and serious, but not even terrific volunteers can replace a professional firefighter. Roni has been reassigned to the Beitar Illit fire station, adding his manpower and expertise to the two other firefighters stationed there.
When I drove over this morning to get some parting shots, the fire station was already closed, so I traveled to Roni's home, where he graciously agreed to speak with me, even though he was in the middle of family time.
Roni explained that the Israeli government cut 1/5th of the budget of fire stations, and dropped 250 firefighters from the system.
"The struggle is just!" GE/E Fire Chief stated. "The government is playing with fire, and endangering the safety of the residents."
Gush Etzion/Efrat's fire station has been open since 1980. Its budget is paid by the government and the local authorities. About 25 GE/E residents volunteer to help in the fire station and at the scene of fires.
Roni noted that both the Efrat and Gush Etzion's councils understand that he needs more manpower. They help him find volunteers, but one professional firefighter is not enough at a station. Nearby Kiryat Arba has two firefighters.
Firefighters don't only respond to fires, but to major emergencies, like the fatal car accident near Efrat's northern entrance a few weeks ago, and the Matnas accident where a little girl was caught in the giant screen. Israel's fire fighting teams are very well-trained for many different emergencies.
Roni thanked all residents that were involved in efforts to save the fire station, but the only thing that will really help at this point is for the government of Israel to realize that playing with fire could be a deadly business, and increase the budgets of fire stations everywhere.
Chas v'shalom, if there are any tragedies during this period of closures, the government is to blame, because the emergencies could not be responded to immediately.
Roni asked residents to be extra careful, especially during the winter heating season, because right now help can't come instantly.
Here is a video clip of Fire Chief Roni Yaacov discussing the closure of the Gush Etzion/Efrat fire station:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rain Check

I was supposed to meet Voices columnist Batya Medad (Voices of Shiloh) last week for lunch and to tape her latest video column. Other things came up suddenly, and I asked for a Rain Check. We rescheduled for today. And guess what? As soon as we met, it started to rain.
Snug in Nina's Restaurant of Ramat Eshkol, we chatted as we ate. Then we went out to tape a segment of Batya's video column. The subject, of course - the rain.
We all know that Israel needs the rain, and we are very grateful for every drop. But for more than a decade, I have felt a special connection to the stormy weather. When it rains, in addition to the pattering and plops, I hear the laughter of a little boy. Over the years, it has become very faint, but it is there all the same. I can hear it, and if I close my eyes, I can envision the scene that I will remember my entire life, IY"H.
It was 1999, the first of many drought years to come. Rain hit a new low - 30% of the previous annual levels. My son Mati was nine years old. Everyone was worried about the lack of water, even nine year olds. Mati turned to me one day and said, "Ema, do you know why Hashem has withheld the rain?" I said, no, I honestly didn't know what we had done to deserve this drought. He said, "It's because we don't appreciate the rain." Wise words from my little boy.
The dry winter persisted. And then one day, it actually rained. Not a giant storm, but waters from the Heavens just the same. I was driving home smiling, as my windshield wipers swished the raindrops to the side. When I pulled up to my house, I saw my son Mati outside. He was sliding from one end of the porch to the other, back and forth, without a jacket or umbrella. Just sliding back and forth. I went running upstairs, "MATI!!!! What are you doing?"
He threw his head and hands up in delight and called out as loud as he could, "I'M APPRECIATING THE RAIN!!"
We have had many years of drought since then. Israel's water resources are threatened as never before. Why? I believe that my little boy was correct. Nationally, we haven't shown our appreciation of the rain. Personally, I don't know about you, but every time I see even a single raindrop on my windshield, I call out in my heart, "I'm appreciating the rain."
Thank you, Hashem, for today's rain. Please give us an encore.
Batya Medad's "Rain Check" video column can be seen right here: .

Monday, November 23, 2009

Preschool Scientists

Yesterday I had the fabulous fun opportunity to be the Savta on the four year olds' Class Trip to the Gan Madaie (Science Kindergarten) in Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion. About 30 four year olds from Maale Amos and Meitzad traveled to the Science Kindergarten to participate in the latest discovery unit on WATER. My granddaughter Rivka was among them.
Roni and Ilana, the talented Science teachers/performers/explorers, made learning about water such a happy experience.
The children curiously entered the Gan Madaie through a darkened corridor, decorated with underwater scenes, and filled with the sounds of whales and dolphins.
The children sat silently as they learned about liquids, solids and steam. They participated enthusiastically in the creative activities about each concept, and they eagerly agreed to do everything they could to conserve water in their own homes. Roni and Ilana also reminded the children that this is the time of the year when we pray for the rains, and said that they hoped Hashem would bless Israel with the much-needed rains. The children nodded in agreement.
I wondered how the Science Kindergarten would be able to keep four year olds busy for even a short time, but the four hours zoomed by. The kids had an incredible time, and so did I.
Would you like to take a peek into the Science Kindergarten. 
Click here to enter the magical world of under the sea, .

Intergenerational Gems

When I founded the Efrat/Gush Etzion Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company more than eight years ago, I wanted to make sure that mothers and daughters, women and children, would share the stage rehearsing, performing, laughing and sharing together.
When I founded the DAMES of the DANCE extravaganzas almost three years ago, I wanted women and teens kicking up their heels together.
These intergenerational opportunities have proven priceless to those involved. The love and kinship of the adults and kids have been enriching experiences for all. My daughter Bati, just nine years old in 2001, was a little lamb on stage in our first production, JOSEPH & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Her master was one of Joseph's brothers, played by my dear friend Fayge. Today, Bati, Fayge and I dance in the same TAP Class. Bati is a head taller than Fayge, but Faye still calls her, "Shepseleh." (Little Lamb) This is a relationship that I know they'll always treasure.
Now I'm involved in another intergenerational opportunity. I study CARTOONING at the Efrat Community Center with talented artist Shlomi Charka. Our class of ten contains eight 10-12 year old boys, a new girl, and me. When I walked through the door at the first class, I thought the boys would have a heart-attack at seeing me, and although they did have their mouths open like giant Cheerios at first, we've grown to respect one another as ARTISTS. We ooh at each others' work and we share a tremendous admiration. They even call me 'Sharon' as easily as they say the names of the guys, "Bar", "Tani", etc.
There are very few opportunities for adults to learn together with kids. That's a shame, because there's much we can learn from one another in these great informal settings.
Personally, I think these projects make me feel younger in spirit and in fact. I've got to stay on my toes to keep up, on stage, in dance class and around the cartooning table. I'm exposed to a younger viewpoint and young ideas that I don't usually hear. I like it. I like to know what young people think and care about.
And it's not only helping me. Interacting with me benefits the kids too. They learn how to speak to adults, and develop social skills they wouldn't have had if they spent their time solely hanging around with the guys. I'd also like to think that my comments, "Your cartoon is great. What bright colors. You're so talented," lift their self-esteem a bit more than a simple grunt from their friends.
Society has become so age-segregated, older and younger folks barely walk on the same side of the street anymore. Intergenerational programs provide us all with a reason for some adult-teen contact, and encourage us to look at one another as individuals, instead of "those strict adults", "those wild teens."
The Community Center and community projects are perfect backdrops for intergenerational opportunities. I look forward to taking advantage of many more. Then the only generation GAP will be the one in the Mamilla Mall.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Heroism in Zichron Yaakov

Zichron Yaakov is a place of heroism on different levels. Firstly there is the courage, faith and determination of the earliest pioneers - faith-filled families that left Eastern Europe for a place they knew not and a life as a farmer of which they were not really familiar.
Fighting malaria, disease, Arab and bedouin rampages, poverty, starvation, hostile elements and then tyrannical overseers - they faced a life of difficulties that we cannot even imagine.
They steeled themselves to survive. And the result is the beautiful quaint small town (not so small) of Zichron Yaakov (as well as other places, like Rishon LeZion, etc.).
Then when every man could have sat quietly under his fig tree, the metal of the town of Zichron Yaakov was tested once more.
As the Turks tormented the Jewish people during World War I, and the British battled the Turks and their German allies, a brave Zichron Yaakov family (the Aaronsons) and their young friends risked their lives (and some lost their lives) to create the NILI Spy Organization. NILI, the name tells everything - Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker (the eternity of Israel is not a lie) - aimed to help the British in every way to overcome the Turks. They also worked to bring the truth of the Turks' oppression of the Jewish people to the world, and to gain help from Jews around the world for their suffering brethren in the Holy Land.
NILI spy work was a terrifying and dangerous undertaking. A few NILI members lost their lives in the efforts. Others lived to see the British Mandate take hold of Eretz Yisrael. They hoped for a better future for their people.
World War I intelligence officers Captain W. Ormsby-Gore stated that the Aaronsohn family was "admittedly the most valuable nucleus of [British] intelligence service in Palestine during the war...The British government owes a very deep debt of gratitude to the Aaronsohn family for all they did for us in the war...In my opinion, nothing we can do for the Aaronsohn family will repay the work they have done and what they have suffered for us."
Every generation has its trials and crises. The success of the Zichron Yaakov settlers is a beacon for all our Jewish pioneers that with faith and perseverance, they can build a greater future for their people.
I hope that before the end of the week, I'll be able to put up a video clip about our Zichron Yaakov experience. Keep checking .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Artillery Museum - G-d's Miracle on Target

I just got back from a vacation in Zichron Yaakov. Relaxing, quaint, quiet little town. One of the places we visited was the outdoor Artilllery Museum. The museum included a fascinating collection of artillery - cannons and rockets from the the Independence War until today.
I had always believed that Israel had the most up-to-date state-of-the-art weapons, so I was very surprised to see I had been wrong. Much of the weaponry were US and French Army DISCARDS that were used by the Israel Defense Forces, sometimes 50 years after they were originally produced.
And yet 50-year-old artillery, even cannons without aiming sites, mortars that could only be shot off once every 45 minutes, etc., somehow found their targets, destroyed enemy equipment, vehicles and positions.
This museum so clearly showed the Hand of Hashem, aiming and guiding the missiles to their enemy targets.

Each sign, describing the different cannons, was proof that it is G-d who fights Israel's battles. Take just one example, the Howitzer, made in France in 1921. Israel only had enough money to buy three of them initially in 1948. Much later they were able to purchase 35 more. (First of all, just imagine an "army" facing a giant Arab onslaught with a total of 38 little cannons.) They look like something kids would shoot snowballs with. And yet, at 30 years old, with G-d's help, the cannons made a real impact on battles against the Syrians and the Jordanians. We had almost no ammunition for these, and so had very small numbers of rounds that we could actually short off, plus there were NO aiming sites, but B"H, for example, in the battle of Deganiot, even with the little we had, the Israeli fighters were able to bomb the ammo storage of the Syrians and force the Syrians to retreat across the border.
Miracles. Miracles.
The Artillery Museum in Zichron Yaakov was full of miracles and lessons in Emunah. The museum showed real GUIDED Missiles - Guided from Above.
IY"H, in the next few days, I hope to have a video up about the museum. It will be worth watching. I'll keep you posted, or you can check out our VOICES-TV videos, .

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Israel - Work in Progress

Local email lists in Gush Etzion asked families to participate in a mammoth photography project, called ISRAEL - WORK IN PROGRESS. It's the undertaking of photographer Frederick Brenner, who spent 25 years of his life snapping thousands of Jews in 40 countries across the globe. The outcome was a two-volume masterpiece called Diaspora: Homelands in Exile, published by HarperCollins.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, "[Diaspora] is the most extensive visual record of Jewish life ever created. It is the result of a 25-year journey that took Brenner to more than 40 countries on five continents. 'What I did,' Brenner said, 'is to deconstruct the image of the Jew and to say there is not one way of being a Jew, but as many ways as there are of being a man or woman among the nations.'”
And so he explored the face of Jewry from "India to Sarajevo, from Rome to New York, from Beijing to Buenos Aires, and to Morocco and Ethiopia."
Brenner's newest project explores the face of Jewry throughout Israel - from north to south and everything in between - with ten photographers responsible for covering different regions in the country.
British photographer Nick Waplinton is photographing families throughout Yesha. Many of the families are Anglos, and he finds it interesting to understand why they left their "normal lives in the Diaspora to move their families to a place with an element of danger."
I tagged along as he photographed a young Israeli couple and an older South American one, both in Alon Shvut. Nick has photographed more than 50 families throughout Efrat and Gush Etzion, including Meitzad, Pnei Kedem, Maaleh Amos, Tekoa, Bat Ayin, Alon Shvut and Efrat. He said that the differences between people in each of the communities is fascinating. His goal is to capture at least 300 families in his lens. He will be working in Israel until April.
Nick is taking portraits of each family, and even sending the family a copy of their portrait.
Any family that is interested in being photographed for this project is invited to contact Nechama Variogs, 050-233-0381, .
To find out more about ISRAEL: Work in Progress, you can view the Efrat/Gush Etzion TV video at .


Twist two three four. Clap right. Clap left. Dance, dance, dance, dance.

Imagine being in a room with 250 women and teens who just love dancing, have a happy great attitude and never stopped smiling for two straight hours. Well, it's a fabulous feeling.
Last night, Motzei Shabbat Chayei Sarah about 250 women and teens danced their socks off for fun and fundraising. It was DANCE NIGHT, organized by the DAMES of the DANCE mega-dance spectacular and hosted by the Efrat Community Center. Women from all over Efrat and Gush Etzion came out for the fabulous festivities.
The idea for DANCE NIGHT began as a party for all those women who are about to begin three months of rehearsals for their upcoming show, DAMES of the DANCE 3 - THE SEVEN DAYS of CREATION, for which I am honored to serve as producer. Then, as women/girls asked, "Can I bring my mother/daughter/sister/friend?" We thought, "Why not!!??!! Let DANCE NIGHT be for everyone who loves to dance." And so it was.
DANCE NIGHT launched our rehearsal season in an incredibly joyous manner. We played music from just about every era, beginning with the 50s, and mixed Israeli and Anglo tunes. Women twisted with Chubby Checker, rocked with the BeeGees and then shimmied with Habibi. We began the evening with Udi Davidi's "Azeh Tov Hashem" and ended with Chevra's "Yehei yehei." In between everyone cheered, "Celebrate good times, come on..." and "We'll have fun fun fun 'til her Daddy takes her T-bird away." The evening passed with one great song after another. Teens danced with their mothers, and then their friends. Dance troupe members danced around their teachers. Choreographers popped around the circle grabbing dancers to join in.
And with every few songs, each of our DAMES of the DANCE choreographers took turns up on stage and taught the crowd a few steps from her type of dance - stomp, 60s, Israeli folk, jazz, INDance, Mediterreanean and hip hop. It was a blast. Hundreds of women were dancing everywhere and just enjoying the atmosphere of sisterhood and energy.
The event charged 10 NIS a piece admission (that's about $3) and the monies went to the DAMES project, which raises funds for needy families in the Efrat/Gush Etzion region.
DAMES will be performing, IY"H, in Gush Etzion and Efrat on Sunday March 7th, Thursday March 11 and Tuesday March 16. All DAMES' talented choreographers and dancers are volunteering their time for this project. They are donating their dancing to help lift the needy to their feet. And that's a pretty good reason to knock your socks off.
Thanks to the Matnas of Efrat and especially Neta Magen, Nechama Dotan and Levi Vinshinboim, plus our amazingly talented choreographers Ruthie Ben David, Yehudit Hirsch, Judy Kizer, Cheryl Mandel, Jocelyn Odenheimer, Nurit Rashi, Nicole Rosenfeld and our choreographer/DJ Tamara Spitz. Oh whatta night!!
If you'd like to find out more about dance troupes in Gush Etzion, purchasing a DAMES movie DVD (50 NIS) or music CD (20 NIS), or ordering tickets for this season's DAMES of the DANCE - THE SEVEN DAYS of CREATION, then email
We had a great time promoting DANCE NIGHT. We even created a funny video. Enjoy:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

20 Years to "Yatka"

I had the tremendous privilege yesterday to travel, Erev Parshat Chayei Sara, to Kiryat Arba to visit the Yeshiva High School of Kiryat Arba, nicknamed YATKA.

The Yeshiva, standing in walking distance to Me'arat HaMachpela, is now celebrating its 20th birthday. Created to build young men with a love of Torah, nation and Eretz Yisrael, YATKA is exceeding all expectations, even those of the yeshiva high's founder HaRav Avinoam Hurwitz. Four hundred boys from seventh through twelfth grade learn in the yeshiva - 250 in the high school division alone.
While it began with truly courageous young men studying and sleeping in a caravan cluster at the edge of Kiryat Arba, it has grown into a magnificent and immense educational campus of multi-level buildings. The main Bet Midrash (pictured above) is gorgeous with new furnishings and boys studying all around.
In the front of the room was a group of young men learning with a rav in a special "Extra" learning lishma (for the sake of learning) program. Around the room sat boys, including Bnei Menashe and Ethiopian students, pouring over their gemoras.
Menahel (Principal) HaRav Roni Lottner led me on a tour throughout the school from the beautiful dormitories to the giant dining room, from the library to the science and computer labs. We peeked into some classrooms and watched a few ping pong games throughout the school.
Hundreds of computers are installed throughout the buildings and offices, and they're all maintained in a central "brains" area so that everyone has connectivity. The school is connected with Internet Rimon, so there's no worry about improper usage of computer technology.
Students can do research, check their grades, or communicate with their rabbis and teachers on line. In fact, connectivity and connection is one of the main characteristics of Yeshiva High School of Kiryat Arba.

HaRav Avinoam has created a school wihere connecting takes priority - connecting between the students and teachers; connecting between the students and one another; connecting the students to their families; connecting between the students and Am Yisrael - each connection fostering a love of Hashem and His Land. Rav Roni Lottner said that Yatka is "a yeshiva with neshama."
Students & Teachers: I have never heard of a school that includes in its teaching plan eight hours a week for teachers to communicate with their students - in either one-on-one discussions or group shmoozes. But Kiryat Arba believes that if young men can feel comfortable asking their rebbies anything, discussing any topic or problem, they will build stronger young men who are more connected to Torah and mitzvot and with a clearer vision of life.
Students & One Another: Kiryat Arba students are taught to relate to one another as brothers and teammates. Their school trips mix up all classes and grades so that all students came become close to one another. They team up students in buddy systems so the stronger can help the weaker students. And they teach all their students to respect and appreciate the traditions of all their varied students. With a studentbody and staff from all over the world, it is a tenet of Kiryat Arba that instead of changing students from different lands into pure Israelis, students should learn to appreciate the culture and customs of their fellow students. In fact, today, as I write this, the Ethiopian students at Yatka are preparing a giant exhibition of Ethipion music, dance, history, food and culture for all students, teachers and parents to enjoy. The occasion is the upcoming Ethiopian holiday of “Sigad”, a holiday celebrated in Ethiopia signifying the yearning to return to Zion. The boys were so proud of this project.
While walking through the yeshiva yesterday, we bumped into several groups of Ethiopian students at work on Sigad - creating power points, painting giant Ethiopian landscapes, choosing Ethiopian music, and getting their Amharic Ulpan lesson for students.
An entire class of Ethiopians learn in Yatka. When they entered the school, they were on fourth grade learning levels, but they have improved tremendously, and some are even learning several subjects in mixed classes with Israel. The Ethiopians will be in Yatka for several years until they come up to grade level. It is an educational challenge that the school adopted with love.
Students & Families: Every Thursday night yeshiva fathers are invited to learn with their sons in a mishmar session that lasts several hours. Fathers come from all over the country, some driving as much as two hours, for this special time together with their son. HaRav Avinoam said that this project has changed the family dynamics in many homes for the better. The boys have become more communicative, and more involved with their families. It is, what HaRav Avinoam calls, one of his secret weapons.
Students & Am Yisrael: His second secret weapon is his Quiet Revolution Project. Every Tuesday, every one of his seniors travels with two rabbanim, the project coordinator and often himself to Beersheva where the boys volunteer for the community. Eighteen pairs of boys split up between more than a half dozen schools, ganim, senior centers and centers for the disabled and they worked at these institutions every single week. On Mondays they receive their lesson plan, the ideas they will try to convey, and the best way they can reach "their pupils." Through games and stories and projects, the students of Beersheva learn about Jewish values and principles and some Jewish heritage too.
The children at the religious and secular schools absolutely adore the boys and wait at the school gates for them to come each week. In the afternoons, all the teams work together in Afternoon Clubhouses throughout the city. In these clubhouses are children of all ages who cannot go home for any reason - their parents work, their family is dysfunctional, etc. The Yatka boys students with them, play games with them, shmooze with them, and become big brothers who become their role models.
This project is indeed making a silent revolution in Israeli society as another 70 schools now participate in day or half-day volunteering in Development Towns throughout Israel. The best part about the growth of the Quiet Revolution is that now secular schools are involved as well.
HaRav Avinoam commented that he told the Misrad HaChinuch (Ministry of Education), that while they might call themselves the study ministry, they cannot be called the Education Ministry, because they are not educating students for life. They might be learning math and science, but they are not learning the secrets of creating a full and whole individual - chesed (lovingkindness) and giving to others. B"H, many schools are not depending on the Ministry of Education for this, and adopting chesed programs like the Quiet Revolution and educating their students to give to others.

HaRav Avinoam not only looks toward his student's educational future, but his personal future as well. In so doing, he has created a kollel neighborhood next to the campus of the school, a YESHIVA UNIVERSITY in the full sense of the word - where students who graduated high school, completed the army, and hesder, can live in a young family's building complex, have the husband learn Torah for half a day, learn in a university for half a day, and interact as big brothers for allthe students in Yatka.
Right now the Yatka Kollel has a minyan of young men living in the beautiful new buildings with the families. HaRav Avinoam is hoping to add about 45 new couples in the three buildings that are currently under construction next to the school.
Avishai Adler, 23 years old, is Rav Avinoam's assistant. A graduate of Yatka, Avishai came back to be part of the school's administration. Avishai said that he had the opportunity to move into the new buildings, but he and his wife preferred to living in the caravan area below the school. There's a cozy close-knit bungalow feeling among the young caravan couples, and that suited the Adlers just fine. Avishai told me, "Right now, my family and I are living in the same caravan that I lived in when I was in ninth grade."
It really seemed that no one was eager to leave Yatka - the kitchen head has been on staff for seven years; the head of the Tuesday volunteer program said, "This is my home, and you don't leave home."; the Av Bayit (maintenance head) said that he's proud to have been at his job for seven years; and the students are eager to come back with their families. Each feels part of the Yatka family, and part of the greater mission of building a better Am Yisrael.
There can be no higher testament to the success of HaRav Avinoam's 20 years. Mazel tov.
Voices will be uploading a video on YATKA in the next week. Stay tuned to

Monday, November 2, 2009

Loving & Hating Computers

There are probably a billion blogs from anywhere in the world about our love-hate relationship with our computer.
When computers work, they can change the world - they can control spacecraft; they can predict the weather; they can help make shidduchim (matches) via, Saw You at Sinai and other dating sites; they can let you stay in touch with your friends via email, facebook and IM; they can let you SEE your Mom on SKYPE; they can help with you homework or research just about anything; they can calculate your expenses; or make slideshows of your photos.
Computers allow me to create and publish a monthly magazine here in Israel and present it to the WORLD at . They also allow me to show videos about life in Israel and my local Efrat/Gush Etzion region.
That's when they work.
When they don't work, they make us tear our hair out (thank G-d, I wear a hat so no one sees the bald spots), complain ad nauseum to our friends, family and blogs, contact every computer whiz in the universe for help.
One of my computer programs - Windows Movie Maker - has been giving me error messages every day for more than a week, and refusing to allow me to compress my videos. That may sound like Greek, but in short, the program has been keeping me from working for a week, and making me waste my day from morning until night to find a solution.
B"H, I have a great back-up of friends and advisors that always come to the rescue - in this case my webmaster Beth Lanin, my videography coach Jesse Schechter, my web mentor Avi Abelow and my computer technicians Y.Z.M. Computers in Betar. They have been on TEAMVIEWER, SKYPE and even the old fashioned telephone with me, all trying to help me with my computer program.
They say that computers will isolate each of us in our own little computer world in our own little cubicle and office, but I have found that using computers correctly, they indeed bring us together, especially when we've got a computer crisis.
So, while we love computers when they work, we can love them when they go haywire too, because they show us how much people are willing to "chip" in to help one another.