Sunday, June 24, 2012

Songs of Jerusalem

There's nothing more appropriate to sing during these days before the 17th of Tammuz (or any time), than songs of Jerusalem.
The upcoming 17th of Tammuz recalls the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans. The day is the beginning of three weeks of sorrows for the Jewish people, culminating in 9 Av, when the Temple was destroyed.
Today as I walked along the streets of the Zayit Hill in Efrat, I heard joyous songs of Jerusalem. The eternity of Jerusalem. The beauty of Jerusalem. The unity of Jerusalem.
The Orot Etzion Banot girls elementary school was in full gear for its second annual girls' sing-a-thon. It's call Pizmone Etzion Banot, and it follows in the footsteps of the highly successful boys' version that wows Efrat/Gush Etzion every year. Its director is Moriah Rottenberg. I found her behind the microphone, calmly, yet enthusiastically, guiding class after class in their rehearsals under the morning sun.
Efrat is often proclaimed for its excellence in Education, its creative Chinuch and its dedicated teachers, who go above and beyond in their efforts for their students. This was surely evident today, as Pizmone Etzion Banot showcased the creativity and talents of each of the girls, as well as the encouragement of their teachers.
The girls will be performing tonight (Sunday) at 7 PM for third through fifth graders, and 8:30 PM for sixth through eighth graders. The event will be held right in the school's beautiful outdoor stadium.
I watched several of the grades perform. They were terrific - singing, dancing, gymnastics. You name all. All within the theme of Jerusalem. While the melodies were familiar, the words to each of the songs were written by the girls themselves. Some of them are very powerful!
Ladies and girls, don't miss this terrific opportunity to see the entire student body perform. It will be quite memorable.

Remembering Zechariah Baumel - 30 Years Later

The cover of VOICES Magazine this month features a photo by noted photographer Gershon Ellinson of Mrs. Miriam Baumel. 
Thirty years after her son Zachariah Baumel left Yeshivat Har Etzion for reserve duty in the Lebanon War in 1982, Mrs. Baumel returned to Har Etzion, sat in his place in the Bet Midrash, and then spoke to students about her son, a Missing-in-Action soldier, and recalled his connection to his hesder Yeshiva.
Zechariah was captured during the battle of Sultan Yacoub, Lebanon, along with Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman on June 11, 1982, just hours before the declaration of a cease-fire. The three are still missing, as is pilot Ron Arad.
Over the years, Mrs. Baumel and her late husband, o’h, traveled the world, following every clue that might lead to information about their son and his fellow MIAs.
In a country where every family is related to a soldier or two or four, we all look at young people in uniform as our own. 
Since the Israeli government went to every length to gain the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, we hope they’ve been working ceaselessly for Arad, Katz, Feldman and Baumel. We pray that Israel continues to pursue their freedom. And we pray for their salvation.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cornerstone Laid at Kfar Etzion Visitors & Heritage Center

Like all of Israel, Gush Etzion has suffered the loss of many valiant soldiers. Our region tries to remember them in meaningful ways - through charity and chesed (good-deeds) projects, events for young people and institutions or places that benefit our towns and our country.
Recently Tank commander, Staff Sgt. Uriel Liwerant, o'h, who was killed in a training accident in the Golan almost three years ago, was remembered at the cornerstone laying ceremony of the new Kfar Etzion Visitors' and Heritage Center.
 The entry hall to the new visitors' center will be dedicated to Uriel, who grew up in Efrat. The $250,000 hall will be a mini-museum that will portray the Jewish nation's ancient connection to the Gush Etzion region. 
The innovative museum itself will be a state-of-the-art interactive visitors' center that will share the story of Gush Etzion, its values, its heroism and its ancient and modern history. (Voices Magazine, January 2011 -
Through interactive stations visitors will hear the personal stories of Gush Etzion's founders and defenders.
Through a reconstructed "war-time communications" trench, visitors will learn more about the lives of the men who remained to defend Gush Etzion and the southern entrance of Jerusalem after their wives and children had been evacuated for their own safety.
In an exhibition center about Gush Etzion in the 21st Century, visitors will learn of the modern-day achievements of the region's residents.
Gush Etzion is partnered in the new museum with the Jewish National Fund, the Gush Etzion Foundation, Israel's Ministry of Tourism, the Gush Etzion Regional Council, the Gush Etzion Tourism Authority and the Bnei Etzion Foundation.
A catalyst of the renovation and expansion of Kfar Etzion's museum and visitors' center was the declaration last year of Kfar Etzion as a National Heritage Project by Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Kibbutz Movement.
Israel's Heritage Lies in Gush Etzion
In addition to Gush Etzion's eternal ties to our patriarchs, to our Jewish heroes like King David, the Maccabees, the Bar Kochba rebels and more, Jews have lived and developed modern day Gush Etzion for a century. In fact, the Jewish National Fund purchased land in the area in 1928. Today it owns 80% of Gush Etzion's land.
Pre-war Gush Etzion numbered five communities that acted as a buffer for Jerusalem against an assault from the South. Its defenders held out valiantly against invading Arab armies for six months. Tragically Gush Etzion fell on the day before Israel's Independence was declared. That day has been commemorated since 1948 as Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day).
In his eulogy to the 250 men and women of Gush Etzion who were killed by the Jordanian Legion, David Ben Gurion said, “I can think of no battle in the annals of the Israel Defense Forces which was more magnificent, more tragic or more heroic than the struggle for Gush Etzion…If there exists a Jewish Jerusalem, our foremost thanks go to the defenders of Gush Etzion.”
To find out more about the Gush Etzion Heritage Center, visit:
To find out more about Staff Sgt. Uriel Liwerant or to help complete the Uriel Liwerant entrance hallway, visit:
For more information, contact:,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Special Souvenir at Pina Chama

I've written many a blog about my experiences in the Gush Etzion Soldiers' Hospitality Hut that we call the Pina Chama (Warm Corner). It really is on a corner in Gush Etzion, right by the main Gush Etzion Junction.
Dozens of soldiers visit the Pina Chama every day for a cold/hot drink, some home-made cakes and a break from the tension of their military responsibilities. My shift ranges between 50 and 80 soldiers in a two-and-a-half hour period.
This morning was quite an amazing one for my partner Jill and myself. We were volunteering on our shift when a group of new recruits walked in with unfamiliar lemon-lime colored tags on their shoulders. 
They had never been to Pina Chama before - looked astounded by the array of cakes and goodies before them, overwhelmed by the military memorabilia everywhere, surprised at the drawings and notes from little children around the world, and delighted at being able to talk about their hometowns, their girlfriends and even their yeshivot.
We chatted with them, served them sugary coffees (soldiers like their coffee very sweet) and grape slushes, and told them we were happy they were out of the blistering heat for a few minutes.
As they were about to leave, one of the kippah-clad soldiers came up to us and said, "What can we give you back?" (It sounds better in Hebrew.) "How can we repay you for your kindness to us?" I looked at him and said, "Please give us a dvar Torah (a Torah thought)."
He didn't flinch. He said, "We will go outside for a few minutes to prepare."
A few minutes later, the soldier and all of his comrades came up to the counter, and one of his friends gave us a dvar Torah about the importance of responding in the synagogue during the mourner's pray, the KADDISH.
Everyone listened quietly to this soldier and sincerely seemed to appreciate the moment. I wished I had the guts to snap a picture, but that would have trivialized what we had each experienced. I know that Jill and I will never forget it.

In the past 11 years since we have served in Pina Chama together, we have received many gifts from the soldiers who have enjoyed our hospitality. Pina Chama is covered with photos, cards, hats, tags, notes and flags from just about every Army unit you can name. This was the first time we had ever received a dvar Torah.
It was one of those "Am Yisrael, We-love-you Times". Today our admiration for our Israeli soldiers multiplied exponentially when this unit of newcomers so elegantly turned our "cafe" into a place of learning and prayer.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Proyekt - Seven Years of Laughter

There are a few occasions every year when I wish I understood Hebrew and Israeli culture a little better. One of those times is the yearly Proyekt teen comedy show.
The audience roared and cheered throughout the evening, and I was a bit slower on the up-take, as I waited for my spouse to finish laughing before he told me what I missed.
As dozens of teenagers floated through scene after scene, jumping across time and space, the appreciative audience of teens and adults alike hooted and applauded.
This year's Proyekt, "The Mystery of the Lost Pearls", featuring characters as diverse as Sherlock Holmes, King Ahav, and Guy the Israeli paratrooper, was a strictly youth production - with young people writing the script, creating the scenery, music, and commercials, promoting the show, performing, and working backstage. Its humor was clever and in, and the jokes rolled easily from one to the next all night.
Kids worked on the show for six months under the guiding hand of producer-director Yonatan Levi (above left)
Levi told the audience that communities are always searching for ways to engage the youth in positive activities. Well, the Proyekt has proven itself to be one of those ways.
It promotes friendship, cooperation, creativity, really hard work and dedication. And it encourages teenagers to take responsibility for their own undertaking. 
This year's Proyekt was written by Dvir Infeld, Yaniv Cohen, Ohad Naveh, Avia Benmelech Chovav, Yonatan Levi, Natan Marcus, Roi Gugenheim, Elazar Landau, Esti Kolin, Arnon Gutel and Amit Sorek.
More than a dozen young people appeared on stage and three times that number worked backstage and in pre-production.
Over the past seven years more than 6000 people have come to see the Proyekt's performances. 
"The Mystery of the Lost Pearls" may struck its sets, but the Proyekt will be back later in the summer with a film night, featuring short movies about life in Gush Etzion. It's something worth looking forward to. 
Here's a glimpse of this year's Proyekt,
For more information on the Proyekt, .

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Gush Katif Expellee Reacts to Givat HaUlpana Caravillas

I ran into my friend at a wedding.
Anita Tucker was a founder of Gush Katif's first community Netzer Chazani. She was a prosperous celery farmer in "the good ol' days". Since her expulsion from her home almost seven years ago, she has done everything possibly to help her town, and other Gush Katif towns, rebuild. 
Anita has worked tirelessly to find the positive in anything possible, related to the plight of Gush Katif's families.  She has been a person who finds solutions to problems, someone who smiled no matter what. Tonight she was not her typical upbeat self.
Anita Tucker and her fellow expellees from Gush Katif are shocked and hurt by the government's decision to use Gush Katif caravans as temporary homes into which residents of Givat HaUlpana will be expelled!!
Firstly, these caravans were promised to former Gush Katif residents of Neve Dekalim, so that they could finally live in the new Lachish neighborhood of Bnei Dekalim, while their homes were being built. Bnei Dekalim is not moving as quickly as future residents anticipated, and families wanted their children in their new schools in September. The government had promised them this temporary housing until their permanent homes were completed.
Now the government has taken away the caravans with no replacements in sight.
Next, the families of Gush Katif are still traumatized by their expulsion from their beautiful spacious homes into tiny caravans and caravillas. They criticized the government's insensitivity in using Gush Katif caravans to expel more Jews from their homes.
They fear for the mental and physical safety of their brethren in Givat HaUlpana. They don't want what happened to Gush Katif folk to ever happen to anyone else, but with a Givat HaUlpana destruction imminent, the horribly scenes of their eviction from Gush Katif are being replayed in their heads.
Anita shared her concerns tonight. You can listen here:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Efrat/Gush Etzion Seniors & Teens Inter-generational Cookbook

 My first day back at work after weeks of positive family events, B"H, and what a great day!

I attended the book launch of a unique inter-generational cookbook created by the seniors of the Gush Etzion and Efrat Seniors Club, along with ninth graders at Ulpana Oriya.
The students came to the Senior Center in Alon Shvut every week for a two hour session. They sat with a different senior each week, who taught them how to make a recipe she remembered from her home, and she told them about her life.
The students not only learned how to make some special delicacies, like date nut bars and Pesach rolls, but they learned a lot from the seniors about life and appreciating the past.
The girls wrote up the recipes, and also fashioned little biographies of the senior chefs.
The result was a loving enterprise - a bi-lingual cookbook, A Taste of the Past.
The who's-who of Efrat and Gush Etzion local government came out to salute the seniors, including Efrat's Mayor Oded Revivi, Efrat's Community Center Director Neta Magen (left), Gush Etzion's Community Center Director Menny Katz, Gush Etzion's Director of Welfare Leah Chesterman, Gush Etzion's Community Center Culture Director Sima Gal (far left), Acting Principal of Oriya Ruti Heilman and others.
Mayor Oded Revivi (left) told the seniors that Efrat (which will soon be celebrating its 30th anniversary) was "designed for people of the age of 35, under the belief that they would stage 35 forever.Today we know otherwise."
As Efrat's population ages, Mayor Revivi added, that today we have come to the realization that we have to serve the needs of the older generation every day.

Each of the recipes in A Taste of the Past were set out for a delicious buffet with the name of its chef. Everyone enjoyed the creations before them.

The tables were also decorated by floral designs that the seniors created themselves with the help of their Floral Design Instructor Yaffa Wreshner.

Also on display were art projects of mosaic, jewelry, recycled materials, mirrors and more, created under Arts and Crafts Teachers Dana Ernstorf and Mandy Broder.

Before I left the event, my eye caught sight of some really groovy looking canes, and then I noticed a cute flowered walker. These seniors might need to use a cane, but they've got a great sense of humor about it. Kol hakavod for the innovation and the smiles these happy canes cause.

Congratulations to Seniors Club Director Dalia Orlev (left with a senior club member), her Assistant Director Marilyn Adler, and all those teachers who give their time to enrich the lives of our seniors.
For a glimpse of today's festivities,

To order the book (and you must!!), please contact Cost: 100 NIS with profits to the Senior club.