Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Assorted Garin Activites in Bat Yam

Bat Yam Garin Tzedek members have certainly been busy in the past several weeks!  Two Tuesdays ago, on 10/19, a large group from the Garin went into the Darfuri family center in Tel Aviv to renovate one of the rooms.  They took the initial steps towards making the room a gan (kindergarten) for kids from the community.  The walls were painted, and many signs were made that have now been laminated and will soon be put up:

(L) Judith Wertheim, Melanie Rice, and Ari Kleinman preparing signs for the gan, (M) Ittai Eres putting up a "colors" poster, and (R) Nathan Chesterman and Laura Maschler painting were all part of a larger effort towards making the new room kid-friendly.

Expect to see an "after" picture of the room soon!

In the meantime, volunteering activity has continued with the community--both in working with individual Darfuri children in their apartments and helping to teach an adult night class.  It appears that soon more opportunities may open up for volunteering with the Darfuri community, perhaps even during the daytime.  Fund raising (via sale of food to Year Coursers at class) has also continued at an astounding pace.  With the money raised, the Garin Members in Bat Yam have bought necessary materials to help the Darfuri community in whatever way possible--indeed, the paint and other materials used in the renovation of the gan were all paid for through Garin-raised funds.

Last Friday night, the Garin also held a benefit dinner for the Darfuris.  For only 20 shekels, any Year Course participant who so desired came to the Ulpan and enjoyed a delicious Shabbat dinner consisting of soup, chicken, potatoes, and an array of fantastic desserts!  Dinner was cooked by various members of the Garin, and everyone had a great time after dinner at the "Whose Shabbos is it, Anyway?" oneg.  The dinner was, on the whole, a tremendous success:

(L) A large group of Garin members let their food digest. (R) Mikole Levran, Ben Klein, Nathan Chesterman, and Josh Steinman enjoy a fun game of "Party Quirks" during oneg. (B) Emilie Seckel and Cera Merrick look pretty for Shabbat dinner!

If you're interested in making a donation of any size to help fund Garin Tzedek activities in Bat Yam, please send an e-mail to

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Arad Fundraising Letter

The following is a letter we will be sending out en mass from the Arad section of Garin Tzedek. Many of us will be sending personal versions, but this is the basis:

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you from Israel, where I, along with 300 others, am on Young Judaea’s Yearcourse program. From September until June I will be volunteering and studying here in Eretz Yisrael and living as a member of Israeli society.

As part of my groups experience I have interacted with many segments of the population here. One group that few know about is the 15,000 or so refugees from Sudan and Darfur who have come to Israel as a last resort to escape the dangers of their homeland. As you may already know Sudan was involved in a civil war between the Arab North and Black African South for over 25 years. One result of this conflict has been the burning of South Sudanese and Darfuri villages leading to a mass exodus of over 2 million people from their homes. These refugees have fled all over Africa, including to Egypt. However, Egypt’s government and people have a generally negative attitude towards the refugees and a large number of Sudanese have been the subject of verbal and physical abuse as well as racial discrimination. Because of their inhumane treatment in Egypt, some have fled to Israel, seeking asylum in the Jewish State.

Here, feelings towards the refugees are mixed. Many Israelis see the Sudanese as uncivilized intruders from an enemy state, as Sudan has officially been at war with Israel since Israel’s independence, coming to steal jobs from Jews. Others strive to help the Sudanese community as humanists, Jews, and active Zionists. In our experience in Arad, I have become involved in the issue. Some Year Coursers have volunteered in their work time and free time to help with a local day care and in other projects in the Sudanese community. As a small town with scarce resources, many Aradniks are quick to point fingers at the Sudanese for issues within the town, even sometimes when the Sudanese are not to blame. I have seen with my own eyes the need for support from those Jews that see it as our responsibility to be a light unto the nations and help those in need. In Arad apathy and even antipathy came to a head when early last month, the landlord of a Sudanese daycare center evicted them, not for missing rent, but because he didn’t want them in his building. The police intervened and beat some of the women, and arrested others. While the Sudanese are not guiltless in this situation, they protested illegally in technical terms, this kind of behavior is inexcusable by any Jew, especially an Israeli police officer. Because I have high standards for the Jewish state and our responsibility to the world I have dedicated my time to this cause.

To instigate a change, my friends and I have started an initiative called Garin Tzedek, or in Hebrew, “Seed of Justice” to help the Sudanese community here and across Israel. As a Garin, (seed, or group) we are developing some projects with the refugee community in Arad including improvements to their daycare center, classes teaching Hebrew, English, and Computer skills, and much needed medical, school, and home supplies. We have high ambitions and a will to do great things, however to begin making the impact we desire to have we need your support. One aspect of my program is that my friends and I live relatively modest lives, eating on a stipend of 20 shekels, or about 5 dollars, per person per day. Despite the fact that I only brought 2 bags of possessions and don’t have the money for restaurants and television, I still look wealthy compared to many of the refugees in Arad.

I am writing to you to ask if you’d like to be a part of what we’re doing here in Arad by making a donation. The money you send will pay for school supplies for the classes my friends and I are teaching as well as Medical supplies, toys for small children, and utility bills for community centers. You can follow the progress of our project on the Garin Tzedek blog at to stay on top of the issue and see articles and photography showing how your donation is used. If you are going to visit Israel this year and would like to see any of our projects please feel free to leave a post on the blog and one of my friends or I will gladly give you a tour and introduce you to the Sudanese here. They are some of the most happy and grateful people, I promise you’ll get a huge hug and meet some of the cutest children you’ve ever seen. If you are interested in donating please send any cash or checks to the following address:

Young Judaea National Mazkirut

Hadassah House 8th Floor 50 W58th Street

New York, NY 10019

If you are writing a check please write it to Hadassah and put “Young Judaea Garin Tzedek” in the memo. Please include a note with your donation explaining who you are and who you heard about the Garin from. My friends are interested in meeting you and knowing who you are. Thank you for your time.


Garin Tzedek Arad



Monday, October 26, 2009

A Day Without Shoes

YC Section head, Rafi Weisz, YC director Keith Berman, and Hadassah's YJ Division Coordinator Shelley Sherman

Wednesday, October 21 was the first “day without shoes,” a day initiated by Young Judaeans in America including current National Social Action Programmer, Alexis Wojtowicz. All day across the States and here in Israel people went without shoes to raise awareness about the situation of Sudanese refugees across the world, especially in Israel. Why no shoes? Many refugees from Sudan, including Darfur, have had to flee their homes over the last 25 years at a moments notice, often times without any footwear, and have walked hundreds, if not thousands of miles barefoot through the deserts of Sudan. The following are pictures from Arad, Bat Yam, and Jerusalem of members of Garin Tzedek, Israeli citizens, and Sudanese refugees barefoot. We hope this day continues to be done yearly, or even monthly to continue to raise awareness.
Some Judaeans from America got in a local newspaper, here is the link

(L) Amani, age 4 (R) Garin Tzedek Member Adam "Ochel" McArthur (Top) Garin Tzedek Members barefoot in Bat Yam.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sudanese Community in Arad Holds Cultural Festival

Evan M. Gildenblatt
24 October, 2009

Arad, Israel - On an unusually cool Friday night in Arad, a sleepy town in Israel’s Negev Desert, a meeting took place in the reception room at the Hotel Inbar. Although not covered by news outlets or given any type of attention by the world at large, it was historic in a sense. In fact, many outside of the room did not know of its existence to begin with. The meeting was a tribal gathering for Arad’s Dinka community, a faction of the South Sudanese population that has sought asylum in the Middle East’s only democracy.

From suits and ties to traditional tribal dress, with half a dozen languages being spoken between the participants, the sheer diversity was overwhelming. The meeting was a first step in uniting the Sudanese community of Arad. Said a representative of the Committee of the Nuer Tribe in Arad (another South Sudanese sub-group), “We need to be leaders in Arad. In Israel. But first, we need to be united with each other.”

The meeting was complete with celebratory song and dance in which community members holding Israeli and South Sudanese flags sang along with excitement.

“We want to show the Israeli people that we want to be a part of their community and that we also want to defend Israel just like any other Israeli. We are misunderstood as a people of problems, but we are truly a people of peace,” said Mr. Joseph Kuc, the Vice General Secretary of the Dinka Tribe.

The Sudanese community in Israel is a mixture of refugees mainly from the south and west of the country. While some of them are fleeing the genocide in the western province of Darfur, others are fleeing deplorable conditions and government persecution in the south. Of the approximately 700 Sudanese refugees in Arad, there are significant populations from ten different tribes. They represent Christianity, Islam, and several different tribal religions.

The experience for the thousands of Sudanese in Israel has been rife with threats of deportation and difficulty in procuring social services. The fact that their home country of Sudan has technically been at war with Israel since 1948 only complicates matters further.

“It is difficult for them, but we do what we can,” said the priest presiding over the event, a man introduced as Father Salvamir from Poland. “It is difficult work for us, too.”

When asked what is the most integral part in becoming members of the Israeli society, the Chairperson of the Dinka Community - Brother Bieth Akuei - responded by stating that “We need to talk to each other. To let the Israeli people know who we are and to understand who they are.”

Although scheduled to conclude at eleven o’clock PM, the festivities were forced to an end by the hotel at quarter past ten. Despite the premature ending, the community leaders were quite satisfied with the progress made at the meeting. “It's representative to how self determination is the first step in solving problems,” said Noah Berman, an American volunteer with Young Judaea’s Year Course program and a member of Garin Tzedek, a Year Course subgroup committed to educating their peers and helping the cause of Sudanese refugees in Israel. "Even though we have a ways to go, it is nice to see the progress that is being made in the normalization of the Sudanese community in Israel."


Photographs from the event provided by Sean MacDonald 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Arad Sudanese Cultural Event

On Thursday, October 22nd the Sudanese community of Arad will be having a community wide event to display dances, songs, food, and general culture from Sudan. The community is not only very different than the Jewish, or really any other community, in Israel, but also has a large variance and diversity within itself. In Arad alone, a city with five to six hundred Sudanese there are three ethnicities, the Nuba, Nuer, and the Dinka, that are strongly represented, as well as the Keiga, Darfuri, and Bari and possibly more. In Sudan there are more than 500 tribes of mixed Arab, and African roots.

Although the planning for the celebration has suffered some hiccups with logistics, as well as the death of a close family member, still living in Sudan, of one the local leaders, it seems that the celebration will continue as planned. Some members of Garin Tzedek have had the fortune of being invited to attend the event, being held to celebrate the upcoming local elections that will be held within the Sudanese community. We're most definitely looking forward to it, and will have stories and pictures to post afterwards.

The elections, the stated reason for the celebration, are an important step for the Sudanese in Arad. The current leadership was not elected in any way, but instead self appointed because they were among the first 51 Sudanese to be placed in Arad and were given a permanent residency status. In the upcoming vote, slate for late October, each of the three largest ethnic communities will elect two leaders to serve on a joint council of six members. While the board will have no legal authority with the city of Arad or the state of Israel, their responsibility will be to represent the interests of the community. These main issues revolve around legal status and protection for the community, the vast majority of whom need to renew their visas every three months. The lack of permanent status is the root of many other issues with employment, housing, and general acceptance within the community. The Arad section of the Garin is working with some leaders, and will hopefully meet with the new council to discuss different projects to help tutor children and parents in English, Hebrew, and computer skills, to set up speaking engagements at schools in Arad, and to establish repeated community volunteering projects for the Sudanese community to help themselves and other sectors in Arad, hopefully improving their image in the city. This celebration should hopefully signify a new beginning in the community and is sure to be delicious, entertaining, and educational.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fundraising in Bat Yam

Today, the Bat Yam section of Garin Tzedek sold food for the first time in between classes to raise money for Darfuri communities in Israel. Here are some pictures of both the fundraisers and the Year Course students enjoying their break-time snacks: