Monday, May 18, 2015


Very early on in our trip we received an invitation from the Abraham Fund (TAFI), to spend a day learning firsthand what the organization does. The fund is dedicated to bringing Israelis and Arabs together thru peaceful means. We became interested thru Ami Nahshon who, after he left the employ of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay, became Co-Executive Director of TAFI.

What we learned from our trip leaders Anton Goodman, Director of International Development and Tamar Lazarus, Development Director is that for every Israeli Jewish position in the organization, there is an Arab counterpart. We met with several of them in the course of the day.

City logo
The purpose of the day was to visit an Arab community in central Israel's so called Triangle and meet with its leaders to better understand their situation as well as hear what they want and feel they are entitled to from the State of Israel.

Anton Goodman, TAFI, with Mayor Abdel Baset Salame,
Thirteen of us including a few TAFI employees traveled in a mini bus to Qalansawe City where we heard from Dr.Thabet Abu Rass, Co-Executive Director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives and Abdel Baset Salame, Mayor of Qalansawe. We sat around a large conference table and heard what they want from the State of Israel: equal education for their children, better roads, jobs and everything that Jewish cities want and most receive.

Dr. Rass
Dr. Rass accompanied us to the nearby Jewish city of Tzur Yigal where we peered thru the fence at the Arab town of Tayibeh. We met in the law center of another Arab town with mostly women and heard their backgrounds and their successes.
Naram, graduate of TAFI women's leadership cohort; Advocate Reda Jaber, TAFI Board member; Nesreen, Graduate of TAFI leadership cohort; MaisamJaljuli, Director of Leadership, TAFI

Maisam with Fatimah
Then on to the home of Fatimah who runs a home catering company, for a delicious lunch of Arab food and desserts. After the meal, Anton spoke to us about the Abraham Fund and answered questions. At the end, I turned to Maisam and told her I felt we were exactly alike. That we thought alike and we dressed alike and she could be my friend in the US. I was unable to see her any other way.

A large component of TAFI is aimed at helping children to get to know THE OTHER. Their Encounters Project provides 11-12 year old Jewish and Arab children, with the unique opportunity to meet and interact with each other. With 34 twinned Jewish and Arab schools participating in the 2014-15 year, approximately 4000 Jewish and Arab children will be introduced to each others cultures. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the next generation could spread the word "peace" instead of "war?"

A friend of Jennifer's in Raanana organized a tour thru her company Travelujah with the goal of giving participants a "perspective of life in and around the Jewish border communities along the northern and eastern Gaza strip. " Thirty of us traveled by bus stopping first at Nitzan, one of the 21 communities that was part of the Gaza Strip until the Land for Peace deal in 2005. To say it was eye opening is putting it mildly! Let me start by saying that before this trip when I heard the word Gush or I heard someone lives in the Gush,  I thought the word was pejorative and only referred to the West Bank. It actually means a group of settlements and not all are in the West Bank.

The original Gush Katif was created by the Israeli
original road sign in Gaza
Government in 1977 and given away by Ariel Sharon and his government, even though his own Likud party voted against it. Of the 21 communities,  Nitzan, located north of Ashkelon, is the only one that voted to remain together. Some disbanded, others formed new groups and the 21 became 11 scattered about.

Logo of sand, sea and palm tree
The residents of Nitzan recently opened a museum documenting the history of the original Gush Katif.  The small museum winds its way along narrow corridors with films of the way it was and the destruction that ensued, with interviews of some of the residents. The hardest part was watching both female and male soldiers crying as they had to evict 8600 residents from their homes before demolishing them. And the mother who cried in anguish that her children always looked up to the soldiers and knew they were protecting all the citizens of Israel and here they were taking everything they knew away from them. It gave us all pause to hear we were watching the film while sitting on stools made from government issued packing boxes used by the residents when being evicted from their homes.

From there we went to Sderot, the city that was and is always in the news. It sits on the northeast edge of the Gaza Strip and has been the recipient of many thousands of rockets and mortars. There are bomb shelters every 200 meters with 15 second or less warnings to find the closest one.

We heard from Odelia, mother of six children who proudly showed us a small piece of an Iron Dome
Odelia with Iron Dome scrap
from her yard. She and her family moved to Sderot in 2006 to become  part of a group of 20 families called Afikim BaNegev which began in 1993. Ten families originally came to volunteer their services to people in the periphery of the country. There are now 324 families in the group that formed the Reut-Sderot Association. The association runs more than a dozen therapeutic and community support programs for those in need; from children and adults with PTS to Holocaust survivors and children from single parent families. 

During last summer's war, Odelia and her husband debated on a daily basis about leaving. However, they felt and still feel that every intact family who leaves weakens a community with a large amount of poor and problem families.  Their six year old son was afraid to go to the bathroom alone because of the sirens and one day asked his mother if the war was over. When she said yes, he said he would now go to the bathroom alone.

inside caterpiller
The community playground consists not only of regular playground equipment but of two giant caterpillars made out of reinforced material that will withstand the rockets and mortars. There is a sign on each opening that instructs the children that when a siren sounds they must go into the opening and stay until the all clear.

The local police have collected all the missiles, mortars, shrapnel and Iron Dome parts that have
landed in their city. All available information is attached to each one including the date and place. The metal shelves in the police yard filled with these remnants brought to mind what a morgue must look like.

Our third stop was to a moshav, Netiv Ha'asara, northwest of Sderot and the closest to Gaza of all the communities.  The name was chosen in memory of the 10 soldiers killed in a helicopter accident in 1971. As a result of the Sinai peace agreement with Egypt in 1982, the moshav was dismantled and
former nursery/kindergarten where a bullet went thru a window 
relocated. It is the only moshav that chose to remain together and move as a community to a location of their choice. After lunch we walked to the edge of the moshav and looked out at numerous greenhouses where the members grow tomatoes, flowers, fruits and other vegetables many of which are shipped to Europe. The Arabs destroyed the greenhouses that the Israelis left in Gaza. The moshav members are using drip irrigation and have figured a way with netting to keep the bugs out for the religious to be able to purchase the crops.

As we walked along an electrified fence, a portion of which has wiring that will electronically warn of intruders, we saw the Erez crossing, a pedestrian/cargo terminal on the border. Notice how the moshav's white greenhouses go right up to the border.

A nine-foot concrete wall separates Gaza from Israel (middle photo). We could even see a coil of barbed wire left over from one of the destroyed tunnel's from last summer's war. In the distance are the tall buildings of Gaza City. I found it very unnerving to think we were looking at our enemies from such close range. Throughout, our American born guide, the only American on the moshav, was explaining how difficult it is to raise children in this atmosphere of constant fear but now the second generation is returning.

affixing my piece to wall
We had the distinct pleasure of meeting a very upbeat, brave young woman who as a mother and an artist is creating a peace wall. She makes multi-colored clay animals, butterflies, shells and stars and invites moshav members and visitors to write messages on the back and affix to one of the grey walls.   The mosaics make one of the imposing walls less frightening to the children as they play gaes looking for different shapes. The title of the work, written in Hebrew and English is Netiv L'shalom or Path to Peace. She has begun decorating a portion of the wall facing Hamas' training camp on the other side of Erez and will write in Arabic Salam, meaning peace, in the hopes that they will read it and soften their stance. This is what I call REAL HOPE! And at the end of this Salam wall, two Israeli soldiers stand guard 24/7.

The ride back to Raanana was very quiet. We were all either silently thinking about what we had seen or talking quietly. It was a day to remember.

ARABIC ON THE LIGHT RAIL By Linda Gradstein  writing for The Media Line in the Friday Jerusalem Post magazine (like Sunday's papers in the US)

Avital Horn led her students onto the Jerusalem light rail train. All dressed in purple T-shirts, she began an Arabic lesson with the giggling teenagers.
“Good morning,” she said cheerfully in Arabic.
“Good morning,” they chorused.
Another teacher taught an Arabic saying.
“When your neighbor is happy, you are happy,” it went.

The traveling Arabic class is a response to a series of attacks on Palestinians both on the light rail train, and in other parts of Jerusalem. In several cases, the attackers, who were extremist Jews, said they did not like hearing the language spoken on public transportation. Palestinians have also been responsible for a series of attacks on Israelis, including the killing of four synagogue worshippers and a policeman last November, and several recent attacks on light rail bus stops that have killed several Israelis, the most recent just last month.

“We decided to initiate the event with teachers and students because we decided you can do a lot with positive active citizenship activities. Education is the best way to fight racism¸” Miriam Darmoni Charbit, Director of Civics and Shared Society, of the Center for Education and Technology told The Media Line. “If you want to stop violence against Arabs, Ethiopians and Russians you have to do activities that are positive and show that most Israelis do not support violence and racism.”

One year of Arabic language is required, according to the Ministry of Education. In practice, many schools ignore the requirement, or focus on learning basic reading and writing. Most of Israel’s high school students graduate with very little, if any, Arabic. Those participating today are in the minority.

“Speaking Arabic in Jerusalem, the capital, is saying that anyone in Israel, in a democratic state can speak in their language and have their culture be heard, Eldar Rosental, 18, a high school senior at the Ahad Ha’am High School in Petach Tikva told The Media Line. “It’s important that everyone has a chance to express their culture in our state. After the racist events against Arabic speakers we decided we should go to Jerusalem.”

Most of the travelers on the train were indifferent to the Arabic class going on around them. But organizers said it was sending an important message.

“This is an effort to bring Arabic to the public space because of the phenomenon of Arabs being beat up on the streets simply because they are speaking Arabic,” “Naomi Schachter, Associate Director of Shatil the action arm of New Israel Fund told The Media Line. “The idea of their mother tongue being unacceptable in public and private spaces is ridiculous. But beyond the event, it’s part of a larger idea of acceptance, tolerance respect for the other and building a shared society we really hope Israel will become.”

There is still a way to go. The night before the Arabic event, a protest by Ethiopian-Israelis against discrimination and racism that turned violent, left dozens, mostly policemen injured. Dozens of demonstrators were arrested.

Ironically, at the same time as the event, a Palestinian who attempted to stab pedestrians at a different light rail station in northern Jerusalem, was shot and wounded by private security guards. A police spokesman said they are investigating the incident.

If only kids led the government instead of politicians! (I added this thought!)

Try to imagine "Seven Grand Pianos—One Stage" at the International Convention Center Binyanei Hauma. We entered the hall to see the seven pianos on the stage and me without my camera! I tried with my old iphone 4 but...

The group was led by a tall, handsome, bald Israeli Gil Shohat, dressed in tails. The four others were Russian Israelis and Israelis, all young accomplished pianists in business suits. The two additional men were well known composer/singers, one of them a Russian, Leonid Ptashka, who plays all over the world and looks like a cross between Liberace and the late comedian Buddy Hackett! His getup on his short plump body defies description but he was bedecked with large rings, bracelets and necklaces.

Sometimes only a few played, sometimes one, sometimes all together from Classical to Pop to Jazz with lots of Gershwin. I think George Gershwin would have stood up and applauded his music, the arrangements of which we have never had the pleasure of hearing.

Large screens were mounted on each side of the stage so that we could see four sets of hands playing while listening to the musicians. And play they did, for 2 1/2 hours without intermission! They also had a beautiful soprano join them several times during the program. A memorable evening!

Back to the ICC to hear The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra led by Israeli Omer Meir Wellber.  This young man was a joy to hear and watch his command of the orchestra. The first half the orchestra was joined by the French Capucon Brothers; Renaud on the violin and Gautier on the cello. Their Brahms Concerto for violin and cello was absolutely beautiful and the audience would not let them go. They gave an encore sans orchestra that was short and showy and incroyable!

The entire second half was Beethoven's Fifth. We were blown away! Wellber makes MTT look like he never moves and he indeed does! The man was all over and I was thinking that he is so positive in his movements that the individual musicians must find him very easy to follow. He has a position in Raanana so highly recommend!

with Russian drummer, Oleg Butman
Tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery played as part of Hot Jazz, a subscriber series at the Jerusalem Theater and elsewhere in Israel.  Born in London but raised in the US, Escoffery has played all over the world including here, his fourth time in Israel.

Shai Zelman
He was accompanied by two Israelis, bassist Dor Samoha and drummer Shai Zelman and Russian pianist/vocalist Natalia Smimova Butman. Natalia's husband, Oleg, is a drummer and stood in for Zelman in one number. The three of them have toured Russia together. All are top notch musicians and played the music
of Duke Ellington and his long time score collaborator Billy Strayhorn. Escoffery was so thrilled to be in Israel again that he also played one of his own compositions about the Galilee.

This time I had my camera!

Yossi's family riding scooters
In the mid 80s when my husband was president of our Jewish Federation, he hired our first shaliach or emissary. We try to see Yossi and Tamar Koren every trip but sometimes they are away. This year's visit was special as besides a dinner date (where we dined next to a dog seated at the bar - see below) we attended the opening of Yossi's photography show.

As he winds down from his current job as a VP of Teva, the Israeli pharmaceutical giant, he is contemplating becoming a full time photographer. This show of photos from China, Ethiopia and a few from here are as professional as any we have seen. And Tamar is working as an architect on her fourth hotel in Israel so...why not retire?!

A frequent barfly!

Hotel lobby
Treated ourselves to a taxi to Tel Aviv and again stayed at the Diaghilev Live Art Boutique Hotel. Located just off Rothschild Blvd, in the center of the Bauhaus buildings that TA is famous for, it afforded us the opportunity to take a long, slow walk enjoying the architecture. along the tree lined boulevard. We were accompanied by walkers, runners, bicyclists, dogs and babies! Every cafe we passed no matter what time of day or night was filled with young people. Not sure if anyone sleeps in Tel Aviv!

before, during and after
We heard from a reliable source and saw for ourselves that
renovated on Rothschild
renovation of many of the original Bauhaus buildings is completed and others are in the process of renovation and still others will start soon so that by next year they should be finished. Then Tel Aviv will once again be known as The White City. The ones we saw that are already completed are very handsome and will make the city proud.

interior of Habimah
The Habima Theater, began in Poland and Russia in the early 1900s and opened in Israel in 1928. It  was recently renovated for more than NIS100 million and the surrounding area is lined with sculpture, ponds, flowers and restaurants. It has been officially considered the national theatre of Israel since 1958 when it received the Israel Prize for theatre. All performances are in Hebrew.

Dirty Old Man with museum guard!
An exhibit of Robert Capa Photographer of Life was at the TA Museum, a terrific show of a man who died much too young. He was once described as "the world's best war photographer" and belonged to a small group of prominent 20th century photojournalists.

In an interview published in Israel in 1948, the Jewish Capa explained: "War interests me, but I cannot bear to see blood. I just cannot. Throughout my career I never photographed a corpse. I only photograph living souls or, to be exact, I photograph life. It seems I have been doomed: where war rages, there I am. But believe me, I would so, so much rather there to be no war."

Capa not only photographed life but his photographs appeared in Life. In 1947 he founded Magnum Photo in Paris with other prominent photographers of the time and Magnum is still in existence.  In 1954 at the age of 41, he was killed by a landmine photographing the French war against guerrilla forces in Indochina. True to his motto: "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough."

Jennifer joined us for dinner and a Vertigo Dance Company performance at the Suzanne Dallal Theater in Neve Zedek. This is the third time we have seen this group and they are not like any we have seen anywhere else. The body movements are primitive, almost violent in some of their numbers, the costumes spare, sometimes looking like street clothes, sometimes rags.

What was special, however, in this performance was a 1965 piece by American (SF Bay Area) Anna Halprin, the doyenne of dance. Halprin has created some 150 full-length dance theater works and received numerous honors from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Dance Guild to name but a few.

To quote her husband, Lawrence, the well known landscape architect, "For essentially draws on primitive needs that express life forces." To continue "...she has reverted to the early meaning of dance in human society, joyful and healing as well as tragic, and based on the most primitive needs of the human condition. These dances are universal." That is how she came to choose Vertigo to perform her work. She felt they were the most capable company of drawing out her meanings.

Our cousin, Donnie, who works in Tel Aviv picked us up and we spent a few hours with the family. Then his brother Ilan drove us to Jennifer's in Raanana to spend Friday and Saturday. The day trip to the Gaza area occurred on Friday. We spent a quiet Shabbat by the pool, eating and walking to the park.

There's more to tell but this is enough for now. We leave in three days which we find quite amazing! It's hard to believe our nine weeks are nearly up but...

All Israelis love sun flower seeds!
 Sending from plane May 17-18 on way home and working on one last one!

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