Monday, November 22, 2010

Crunch Time

We have about a week left in Arad, and tomorrow is technically the last day of compulsory attendance at volunteering. After waiting for some final logistics that went a little slow since it was our first time going through the process of getting the necessary money (from what was fund raised last year), we got moving. The plans that were mentioned before of renovating the Gan are now translating into action.

The back of the Gan is an outdoor area closed in by walls, partially covered by a glass awning, and cluttered with what appears to be donated dusty, dirty chairs and tables. There are random wooden boards, signs, and nails thrown about. There are weeds growing around the perimeter of the partially brick tiled ground. The walls have eroded over the years, resulting in large gaps in the plaster. It all sounds lovely, I know, but when we're done, it will be entirely child proof. So, getting started, today and yesterday, Joel and Jimmy cleared out the heavy, random boards, signs and nails and brought them to the dumpster. We pulled the brick tiles around the perimeter, pulled the weeds, dug up the sand a little bit, and will be putting down mulch to plant a simple garden around the perimeter. Year Course's ever so capable Arad manager of logistics, Erez, came in and fixed the broken hose in the back yesterday, which was leaking water and wasting a huge amount, as it would not turn off. Today, we bought plaster and necessary tools and began fixing the huge gaps in the wall outside. This will be complete by tomorrow, as well as painted white. Once the wall is safe and painted, we will clean and organize the tables and chairs in such a way that the kids can play safely outside.

And all of that is only the outside. The inside is mostly child proof, but the nearly empty white walls give the Gan, a kindergarten, an almost hospital feel. It makes one go a little crazy to spend entire days in a completely white room. Kids, we believe, need an environment with color and texture. So, with what was upward of our 5th trip to the hardware store in the past 24 hours, we got two colors - a cream and a pale green that compliment each other well and are good, stimulating but calming colors for the kids. Before this trip, however, we made sure to ask Peter (the Sudanese community leader) and Abova (the caretaker at the Gan) permission. They welcomed the idea, telling us that what we think is good for the Gan, they think is good for the Gan. We also placed child safety power outlet covers on the power outlets that the children love to stick their fingers into. A 220 volt shock would be, I can imagine, less fun/safe than an American 120 volt. We will also plaster the small portion of the inside wall that has somehow come off, as the children LOVE to eat it. Yes, eat the wall.

With our team of Garin Tzedekers and random Year Coursers getting to work every day this week, we will be done before our bittersweet move to Jerusalem. This is what we've been up to. We will post before and after pictures as we go.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Clarification

In no way was the previous post meant to demean any values that Garin Arevim is functioning based on or create any implications about moral or ideological superiority. Maybe it wasn't the best example to use as a potential for a split - the split occurs mostly within Israel and Garin Tzedek, and it was unfair to make a generalization about Garin Arevim.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Split

After weeks, maybe a month, of trying to chase down a leader in the Sudanese community (turns out that two people had two different wrong numbers), Alexis, Joel and I were finally able to sit down with Peter, the Sudanese community president of Arad. Peter speaks a descent amount of English compared to others we've encountered and has a good idea of certain aspects of the community, though there seems to be a split in leadership/opinions of the community which is still unclear to me. We asked Peter what the Sudanese community needs - how we can help in Arad. He asked us to teach English/Hebrew to adults on various nights of the week. He also requested specific help from Joel with his English on his computer at home, which Joel did yesterday. We want to paint the entirely white Gan as well, and he welcomed us to do so. As of now, we're working on setting a date and getting materials.

What nineteen year old do you know that doesn't want cookies? Exactly. Directly after volunteering at the Gan today, Alexis and I spent four hours in a minimally equipped Year Course apartment baking cookies which we then sold before and during the break at Ulpan, our Hebrew class. We raised well over 200 nis which is about $60 for our Gan renovating plans.

While most Americans (particularly young Jewish activists as myself) are struck somewhere in their soul and memory by the idea of helping genocide/civil war stricken Africans, its not quite as simple in the democratic and theocratic Israel. So let's ask the question that many are too scared to ask: Do we as Jews have more of a responsibility to help each other than non Jews? If this is the case, does a Jewish life, thus, have a higher value than a non Jewish life? When push comes to shove, how do I, we, as young, American and British human rights activists, but also Jews and Zionists come to a balance? Can one's ideals be right winged and simultaneously be an active member of Garin Tzedek? While most people in the Garin, myself included, have developed personal answers to all these questions, most would have trouble convincing the average Israeli. To me, it seems unreasonable that I'd have to justify to ANY Jew helping a fellow human, particularly one who has been suffering the same fate that we did. These same people who's grandparents hid in the floorboards of Christian homes in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust will ask me how I could possibly spend my year in Israel working with Sudanese people. Maybe there are potentially those who value a Jewish life more. Maybe there are those who feel that as a chanich on a gap year in Israel, that we should be working with Jews. These are all valid arguments and a wide ranged controversy that has kept Garin Tzedek a safe distance from a specific political stance in the past. So there's a struggle, a split. PLEASE, Jews, activists, Zionists, comment. Bring the struggle home, discuss it, post it, tell us what you think.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Garinei Ha'am Shabbaton

This past weekend, Tova and I helped lead a shabbaton of sorts, of the three garinim that Year Coursers of 2010-2011 have continued/created. They include Garin Tzedek, Garin Arevim (of whose participants donate time to support victims of shock and terror), and Garin Kayamut (of whose participants want to live in an environmentally sustainable way). We came together as Garinei Ha'am, with the common aim of making the world a little bit better by continuing to build Israel.
Over the weekend, guest-speaker Nic from the African Refugee Development Center came and spoke about the problems facing refugees and asylum seekers, particularly the plight of the Darfuris and South Sudanese.
Those interested in Garin Tzedek were able to have questions answered by Nic, and use his information to start developing plans for this year in every section of Year Course.
Meanwhile, in Arad, Tova and I continue to volunteer at the Gan. One woman takes care of about 20 kids for the entire day. She cooks, cleans, and tries to supervise all of them. The ages range from about six months to 12 years old. We come to the gan to give the kids attention that they need, and help them start to learn Hebrew and English. They are stuck inside one room, because the one and only caretaker cannot supervise two areas at once. She also doesn't speak Hebrew or English (only Arabic), but insists on feeding us at least once a day. Everyone in the community chips in for the small apartment that the kids go to for daycare, and they have some toys and food, although it seems minimal.
Discipline is extremely different in Sudan than in Israel, or America. The kids learn from their parents and peers, and resort to crueler methods of punishment. It is for this reason that we'd love any comments about behavior modification for small children!
We hope to improve the Gan by painting it, or raising money for more age-appropriate toys and options for the kids, but are often hindered by the red tape and meaningless structure that exists even within the Sudanese community of Arad.
We'd love to hear suggestions on how to help improve the lives of these children of the Gan, and can't wait to work with the rest of our section to effect change here.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Getting Ready for Garin Tzedek on YC 2010-2011!

Yes, the time is coming for me - four months from now, I'll be enjoying my third day of Year Course in Israel. Meanwhile, back in East Brunswick New Jersey and Portland Oregon, Alexis Wojtowicz and I have started working on some of the primary plans for picking up where this year's Garin will be leaving off. We've drafted a vision statement, the fundamentals of which are very similar to the current vision upon which Garin Tzedek is currently acting. Alexis and I are still bouncing ideas off of eachother in terms of the vision, and waiting for input of those who would like to be involved. With about nine people who have expressed interest thus far, the Garin, by its nature, is starting off small in numbers for next year. Recognizing that it will most likely grow quite a bit, we're working on ways to create a community within the Garin members while in our different sections. Ideas such as monthly Shabbat dinners and fund raising projects within all sections have come up. As we progress and work with some of the year course staff, the logistics for this will continue to develop.

One of our big focuses is on how to utilize the time that each section spends in Jerusalem, where there is no Sudanese community (I believe, but someone correct me if I'm wrong). Political action has been discussed, though that could potentially become messy with the mix of two very valid sides to a complex political and moral conflict. A political stance will be something to discuss with the Garin as a whole. Some other ideas for Jerusalem include educational seminars. I've spent months researching the conflict in Sudan/Darfur, talking to experts, and have been doing my best to do hands on work, and STILL, I find it very dificult to put all of the pieces together. I think that the whole Garin will benefit greatly from a deeper understanding of the big picture. Fund raising can also be a focus in Jerusalem.

As for Arad and Bat Yam, we'll be continuing the great work being done now. We plan to tutor English and Hebrew and have community events for the Sudanese community. We're both really looking forward on spending the summer building these plans and working with Noah and other members of the current Garin in doing so, as Alexis, myself, Noah, and other Garin members will be staff at Young Judaea's leadership summer camp, Tel Yehudah.

Keep your eye open for posts on this blog regarding next year, and rest assured that all of the incredible work being done this year will not be coming to an end as the month of May does. Alexis and I both feel an extremely deep connection to this particular matter and can't wait to devote our year to it. While they still have about a month left, Alexis and I congratulate the current Garin on the amazing Dugmah (example) which they've set SO FAR (it's, of course, not over yet!), and we can't wait to get it going on Year Course 2010-2011!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Garin Tzedek Videos

Here are a few video clips of Section 2 volunteering in Arad: working in the Ganim, teaching English and running Sports Night.

This is a photo montage of Garin Tzedek volunteering in Bat Yam and Arad (Section 2).

These can also be found on Youtube if you search for "Garin Tzedek". Send these videos to family and friends to let them know what Garin Tzedek is all about!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Portland Dinner Photos and Article

Here are some pictures from the Portland Young Judaea Dinner for Garin Tzedek as well as an article about the event.

Here is the first bit, the full article can be found at

Young Judaea gets busy locally


article created on: 2010-04-04T00:00:00

A year after virtually all its local leaders graduated, a reinvigorated Young Judaea is going full tilt with social and social action programming including a major fund-raising dinner April 16.

The Portland chapter of Hadassah’s peer-led Zionist youth group has planned an educational, fund-raising dinner (see box) for Garin Tzedek, which aids refugees from Darfur and other parts of Sudan who live in Israel. Garin Tzedek, a vision of last year’s Young Judaea national president and some other high school-aged leaders in the movement, now has 52 participants in the Young Judaea Year Course who spend six of their nine-month gap year program volunteering with those refugees.

The local resurgence has been led by Portland Young Judaea President Tova Cohen, who plans to devote her volunteer commitment to Garin Tzedek when she participates in Year Course beginning in the fall.

Fundraising Dinner

Tova Cohen, a high school senior who is signed up for Year Course 2010-2011 and has already taken a leading role in Garin Tzedek for next year, headed the planning for a Garin Tzedek fundraising dinner a couple weeks ago. She sent the following message about the dinner:

Dear Young Judaea,

It is my honor to inform you all that as a result of all of your hard work (Portland maz) that over 100 people attended the benefit dinner for Garin Tzedek, and that between the donations, pledges, and profit from dinner tuition, we have raised an estimated $2000 for Garin Tzedek. Not only did we do an incredible Mitzvah by simply raising the money for this cause, but through the speaker, preformance, and programs at the dinner, we've successfully educated the Portland Jewish community on a matter which they probably wouldn't have otherwise thought about. I'd like to wish you all Mazal Tov on not only this, but also the Jewish Review article that was written about us, and how successful this club has come off the ground this year and how much work went into everything without any real staff or help. Congrats Arielle Berne, Aviv Bresler, Hannah Westerman, Jori Halpern and Romi Goldner. Can't wait for our next meeting,

Tova Cohen
Portland Young Judaea

Thank you soooooooooo much. You are awesome and have helped Garin Tzedek in a great way, we can't wait to see what you continue to do next year and into the future.
-GT '09-'10

(Pictures forthcoming)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Odd Moment

While I was teaching at Adam Abdullah's shelter a few days ago a six or seven year old girl named Shima and I started playing together. To help her practice her English I asked her to draw some pictures in her notebook. Once she had drawn the pictures I would ask her what the picture was of (in English) and if she didn't know I would tell her, and then we would spell it. B-U-T-T-E-R-F-L-Y, B-E-E, but then she drew a Magen David, a Star of David. Shima is Muslim and was born in Egypt, but this in many ways embodies the paradox of the Sudanese community. Black-African Muslim children who speak near-perfect Hebrew and dress Israeli, and apparently draw Magen David. This is strange to me, as part of the Jewish Diaspora. I had never been inclined to draw crucifixes or Jesus Fish in elementary school. But to Shima it was just a natural thing to draw. Maybe it has to do with the general love of Israel that the Sudanese now have because of the help it has provided. But I don't think so, after all, Shima can barely read and write, I don't think she's a Zionist quite yet. It's probable that Shima has just seen the Star, one of Israel's national symbols, on enough flags, bumper-stickers, and synagogues that it is normal to her - like the Stars and Stripes to American first-graders. But, there is still a strong symbolism in her action. It says something about Israel and about the situation of the Sudanese refugees who have found themselves here.

I asked Shima and she said that her mom and her had not gone to any Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day) official ceremonies, which makes sense because many Sudanese are afraid of immigration police. However, it's possible that Shima feels Israeli. The question than is what happens when the generation of parents start going back to Sudan, but children want to stay, or what happens when some families decide to make Israel their home. In essence, when does a non-Jew in Israel become Israeli? For many Sudanese, their intentions are clear: they want to go home. Peter from Arad, as an example, always has his TV on SSN, the Sudanese Satellite Network, and can't stop talking about home. But for the rest who want to stay in Israel, estimated by some NGOs as around 25% of the community (though no one is sure), it is unclear what their future holds.

Language, employment, and education are important practical concerns at the center of this dilemma, but even more important is the emotional question. Can Israel be a Jewish state and a post-national state, and does it want to be? The obvious answer is no on both accounts, but the reality seems to suggest otherwise. Sort of. The Neve Sha'anan neighborhood, in the shadow of Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station is made up almost exclusively of Thai, Sudanese, Romanian, and other foreign nationals working in Israel. The neighborhood looks and feels dirty and illegal businesses and prostitution abound. However, there has been some recent excitement about potentially converting the neighborhood into the Tel Aviv equivalent of Chinatown. Additionally, while walking with the kids from Adam's English learning program to a nearby park I've seen multiple Filipino children in Israeli scout uniforms. And these workers are moving up. A handful of non-Jewish, non-Russian, immigrant workers live in Bat Yam, which isn't glamorous, but is certainly a step or two up from South Tel Aviv. All of this implies a sense of permanency about Israel's "non-Israeli" population. The Jewish State seems to be adjusting to an understanding that there will always be some "goyim" among us.

It seems that this is the natural consequence of Israel outdoing itself. If we weren't living in such a vibrant and successful economy there would be no incentive for the foreign workers. If we didn't act accordingly with Jewish morals we would have no refugee "problem" to deal with. As the adage goes, as you make your bed you must sleep in it. So, now that we've made our bed so nice and fluffy, with plush pillows and a down blanket, so nice that some other folks have jumped in, how do we sleep with them, if we do at all. There are three options.

Firstly, we could be assertive and brash, kicking immigrants out of the country. There is currently an ad campaign in Israel against illegally employing foreign workers that shows the pictures of Jewish Israelis with their statue (father of 3, newly released soldier, etc.) and says in Hebrew, "don't give away my job." While this viewpoint has some merit, it also runs the risk of seeming discriminatory to a level even greater than Arizona's S.B. 1070, which has already been disavowed by President Obama, influential Republicans like Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, and even by the Major League Baseball Player's Union. Being under the international microscope of scrutiny, such as Israel always is, imagine the outcry if we were to expel the 20,000 plus refugees and tens of thousands of illegal workers.

Secondly, Israel can drop the whole Jewish thing and make a huge aid project of bringing in more refugees to help them here. While that may boost Israel's public image and do a lot of good, there is still an argument to make that with our limited resources and high poverty rate it may be wiser to spend that money on the citizens of the country in need first and then expand into a project such as this. The Talmud states that one should help their own community first and then those farther away. Additionally, this changes the mission that has held the Jewish State together for over 62 years and the Zionist endeavor for more than 120 years. It's kind of a big deal.

The last, and I think most practical option is to accept what is happening and make it an advantage. After all, this is how Israel has thrived for years, by taking set backs, like the Arab League boycott, and turning them around as Israel did by growing a more independent economy in response to the boycott. The Sudanese are now an economic burden, but they don't have to be. There are creative ways to bring them into the economy and it all starts with teaching language, vocational, and technological skills. This can itself bring the teachers, potentially previously unemployed Jews, some money. The Sudanese want to learn, and Israel is a proven teacher. One way to capitalize on this seeming disadvantage would be to gain foreign investment in an institute that would educate Sudanese, along with Jewish Israelis in the leadership skills they so desperately crave to bring back to Sudan. We can learn from them as much as they can from us, as anyone in Garin Tzedek could quickly tell you. And Israelis are culture junkies that travel the world for new tastes and ideas.

Most important though is that helping these people is not only moral, it can redefine the Jewish condition. We've been hunted and persecuted for so long that our natural instinct has been protectionist and isolationist. However, in a independent Israel, we have our first opportunity to sustain our unique Jewish essence and still extend our hand to others. We are now strong enough that we are beginning to connect globally, it's happening in Israeli business, traveling, and projects - just this month Israel sold millions of dollars of drip irrigation technology to African countries. If we can accept this reality and begin to act accordingly we can help those that need our help from our neighbors to the refugees from Sudan.

So, maybe Shima is just drawing what she's seen all over the streets in the weeks surrounding Israeli Independence Day, but maybe she thinks of herself as Israeli. And while we need to maintain Israel's Jewish character, maybe she can help us redefine who we are as a confident and moral people that can not only govern ourselves, but can also start to save the world.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mourning and Celebration - Zionist Schizophrenia

The last two days have been a rafting trip through a river of emotions, ebbing and flowing by the hour. Israelis are like seasoned guides for this kind of trip but, like guides, even they get surprised every time and get an extreme rush from the experience without fail. Every year, as you may well know, Israel has Memorial Day (or Yom Hazikaron) and then immediately follows the solemn ceremonies for the more than 22,000 fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks with Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) starting immediately thereafter. There is a sense of “schizophrenia” as Judy Cohen, the YJ Bat Yam coordinator, put it. On Memorial Day, all of Israel is in intense and personal mourning. We visited a cemetery full of bereaved families and friends. The radio stations play only sad music. Stores are closed early and everyone goes to ceremonies, large or small, often times through their municipality to commemorate the day. We went to Bat Yam’s ceremony where all of the 522 names of “the children of Bat Yam and their children” who have fallen in the line of duty or as a result of terror attacks were read. There were easily 3,000 people in attendance. There is a siren that begins Memorial Day at 8 pm and another the next day at 11 am and everyone is truly downtrodden throughout the day since almost everyone knows someone directly who has died in the IDF. However, around 5 pm attitudes and morale start to change.

By 8 pm, around the time when the switch from penultimate sadness to incomparable elation is made, everyone has changed from plain white or black shirts to festive hats, pants, flags, and face paints. In Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square people were dancing with strangers and children were running after each other with bottles of silly-string. It was hard to be anything but overjoyed, even after my friend JD accidentally threw coffee on me (don’t worry it wasn’t hot.) Independence Day itself is a holiday you can enjoy with all of your senses. Fireworks, barbeques, and family gatherings are commonplace across the country. You can hear old Zionist marching songs, folk tunes by Shlomo Artzi, and Kobi Peretz’s Mizrachi music; the excitement is palpable. But in Israel’s press these two days mean something somewhat different. Political correspondents talk about how we’ve triumphed or what we need to do better in the next year, culture and scene reporters praise Israeli films or shun the new wave in a nostalgic look backwards, and social activists rail on the current administration and ask for what’s next. Now, we could do that, although I think it’s obvious what we’d ask for to anyone who has read this blog before, and we still may do so, but not now. For now, I have had my fill of poignant and well worded social commentary – and I don’t think I could even come close to the neighborhood of Israel’s media in the eloquence of my words. But I do have a different insight that I think only an outsider, particularly a young adult could pick up.

These two days are too emotional to process; it reminds us of our national and personal fragility. I had the choice to either go to a ceremony for Memorial Day or to visit my roommate who was spending two days in the hospital because he had a problem with his vision. I chose the ceremony. And during it, one of the speakers read a well known Hebrew poem about a lost friend that roughly translates to:

And while today we must think of so many names, so many stories and lives, you still come to mind. Even though, when the siren rings I am supposed to remember all those that died for me, I will only think of you and you will be the only thing that matters.

Now, granted, my roommate was only in the hospital and not in life threatening condition, but what I realized a couple hours after I got home, was that I may have chosen wrong. I was all caught up in the day and forgot that it is about appreciating those we love. My roommate will be in the army next year and naturally I’m worried for him. I don’t think anything will happen, but still, on a day like Yom Hazikaron, these kinds of thoughts come up. But, that is what happens. On Memorial Day we remember that anyone, regardless of color, wealth, or country of origin, can be lost at any time. We are always close to the brink here, and today we recognize that through awful humor that tries to make light of things, through ritual, through mourning, through guilt, and through moving on into the best day of our lives come tomorrow and independence day.

I don’t mean to go much further than that, but as this is the Garin Tzedek blog, I do want to bring things back to our joint mission. Today and yesterday, we remembered and celebrated some crazy things here and Israel. This kind of distinction is a common theme in Judaism: between the profane and the holy; between the Shabbat and the normal days; between kosher and non-kosher; between death, life and all the stages of life. But those that now the difference between Zikaron and Atzma’ut, literally remembrance and independence, but more appropriately ultimate sorrow and ultimate joy feel how these distinctions sanctify our lives. In Israel how we cope with the responsibility of our independence because of the price we paid for it is a huge part of the culture. The Zikaron-Atzma’ut transition is part of why you can go into an Israeli home and expect to be offered a bed and a meal and why the other passengers on the bus help you find your stop. The understanding that we have to be happy and united because others we too may fall has caused Israel’s greatest victories, and when we’ve forgotten this value, our greatest defeats. This may be the keystone of Zionism and it is something that the Sudanese share as well. There community rises and falls together and they look out for one another because they too are constantly reminded of grief and elation, victories (however small) and their prices (however large.) Today of all days, we can see ourselves within them and them within us.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day and yet I’m still wasting time. Here in Israel Yom Hashoah has a different prominence than it does in the Jewish communities of the Diaspora. Most obviously, here the day is a state holiday. Instead of small and little known gatherings, commemorations are large, obvious, and in your face. Even if one wanted to, one couldn’t avoid the powerful mood of the day, perhaps most symbolized by the two minute siren sounded during the mid morning, during which all activities stop and everyone stands in silence to remember. Rowdy classrooms are muted, businesses take a break, and the highway traffic halts as drivers get out of their cars to stand. This is a truly powerful sight.

However, the biggest difference is not the most obvious one. Perhaps Yair Lapid said it best when he said that he fears anti-Semites and neo-Nazis as a humanist, and not a personal issue. While Diaspora Jews, even in America, still live with some fear or inferiority in the back of their head, no matter how well it may be tucked away – because we are a minority, because we know someone who was affected by anti-Semitism in our community, or for whatever other reasons, our Israeli counterparts are confident and fearless. This entirely transforms the mentality of the day. In America we tell a narrative obsessed with the numbers, with the loss, and with how we can avoid our own victimhood in the future. We are still defensive and passive. Yes, we recall the heroism and bravery of Jews and Righteous Gentiles alike who stood up, but Yom Hashoah becomes a dreary repetition of facts; part of the uniquely Diaspora narrative that we must never be completely comfortable. In my experience Diaspora Jewry is engaged not in remembrance, but instead in “not forgetting.” We are told to battle those rhetorically who deny the Holocaust (similarly to how we are told to combat those who deny Israel’s right to exist.) But, I’ve learned a new way to practice this day in Israel this year. Abba Kovner says, “Build a monument, not of marble or granite, but of actions.” Israelis that I’ve encountered, living in the self-determinist Jewish state, take this sentence to heart today. In a society where the information battle is non-existent we must not only retell the stories of bravery, sorrow, misery, and transcendent pride, but we must also embody that on a daily basis.

Cars stop on the highway in Bat Yam to stand for the Yom Hashoah Siren
(Photo taken by Aaron Beer)

There are projects and good deeds that can be a memorial for the fallen and an act of defiance towards those who would have us not here. They range from projects directly related to the Holocaust, like helping feed the 200,000 Survivors still living in Israel, many too old and decrepit to support themselves, to general societal improvements like beautifying our country by picking up some of the thousands of cigarette butts and Bamba wrappers lying on the streets. The point though, is that we must internalize the lessons of the Holocaust and improve the world around us to show how truly fortunate we are. This is arguably the most Jewish form of practice – creating a ritual around an idea or ideal – and this ritual of Tikun Olam (improving the world) is the ultimate Jewish action.

Yet I’ve still checked facebook four times today and fed no one but my own flat-mates. With the Pesach Holiday break and the transition between cities we have all gotten too lazy and apathetic in Garin Tzedek, and no one more than me. But in fact this Spring season, from Passover, also known as Z’man Chiruteinu (the time of our freedom), to Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, is ripe with a theme that should be inspiring us. Not only does the Exodus from Egypt and Israeli-style Yom Ha’shoah, based on rebuilding after a genocide, directly correlate to the struggle of the Sudanese as well as it does to our own Jewish historical narrative, it speaks to the exact reasons we started this enterprise. We want to rebuild another people and be the “righteous among the nations” for another people. We want to release ourselves from the bonds of typical Western narcissism and reach a higher level. We want to celebrate our Jewish autonomy like Israelis do; not by combating our would-be enemies, but by helping those like and unlike us, by truly being a light unto the nations. I hope that we can concretely do this by not only repeating what we have done up until now this year, but by challenging ourselves to focus on how we can better REMEMBER the Holocaust, and not just “not forget” until the end of Year Course and throughout the remainder of our lives. Because Yom Hashoah is a day of mourning, but it doesn’t have to be only morbid, it can also be a genesis. That is what commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel has taught me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Maybe You Should Let Your Kid Take That Year Abroad After All"

Garin Tzedek was featured in an article yesterday in "Parent Dish," a website with advice for parents.  Here is an blurb from the article, for the entire feature go to

"High school grads tutor refugees.

Perhaps you've seen TV news exposés or heard stories about what really happens when kids graduate high school and take an "educational" year abroad before college: basically, a 12-month carnival of loafing, tanning, and drunken debauchery. But sometimes, your kids go abroad, get involved in a cause bigger than themselves, and actually come home as better people."

Section 2 in Jerusalem

On March 3rd, Section 2 moved from Arad to Jerusalem. Before leaving, we bought some needed materials for the Sudanese ganim in the area and bid a bittersweet farewell to all the children and the Sudanese community as a whole. A couple of weeks before our departure, Garin Tzedek also took a trip to the beautiful Mitzpe Ramon area, the largest erosion crater on Earth:

Har Ardon, the mountain we climbed up on the trip.

Nathan Chesterman, Scott Rothschild, and Cari Levison enjoy the view from the top of Har Ardon.

Although there are no opportunities to directly help Sudanese in Jerusalem, that doesn't mean Garin Tzedek in Section 2 isn't doing anything. We are now more than ever dedicated to running extra peulot and programming for our Year Course community, including both activities during the week and tiyulim. We're currently searching for ways to aid the Sudanese in Israel in a more indirect way, which may in the future include some sort of demonstration. In the meantime, we've already gotten started with our extra programming--on Tuesday the 9th, we watched the movie "Wet Hot American Summer" in one of the classrooms. If you haven't already seen it, it's a fantastic and wildly funny film about summer camp.

In our last two and a half months on Year Course, Section 2 Garin Tzedek hopes to become closer than ever as a community through our extra programming. If you have any questions, ideas, thoughts, comments, complaints, concerns, qualms, tidings, quarks, inquisitions, beatitudes, or anything else, feel free to tell us. Be expecting plenty of updates on our activities in this last excellent trimester in Jerusalem!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dead Dreads Fundraiser Follow-Up

Thank you all, the Dead-Dreads fundraiser was a huge success. With your help we have had more than $1,500 pledged - as the donations filter in and are registered we will let you know the final sum. Young Judaea Israel even made their own contribution of 4 computers, 3 monitors, 4 mice (or is it mouses ?), and 4 keyboards! It was an awesome experience for me as well - I'm still adjusting to the weight loss - and we'll be able to begin the computer courses some time soon after Passover. Keep visiting the site for more updates and let us know if you are interested in more information or if you are in Israel and would like to meet any of the Sudanese or members of the Garin. You can email

B'Shalom, Noah

The Dead Dreads - Pictures

Here are pictures from the event, thank you to all everyone who participated and donated!!!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Section 1 Garin Tzedek

Making the move from Jerusalem to Bat Yam was very exciting for Section 1 to begin volunteering and making a difference through Garin Tzedek. At our first meeting we made our way to southern Tel Aviv to the community center where we met the families and were served refreshments as soon as we sat down. The Sudanese families were all so welcoming and eager to start as well. Our group was split up into individual tutoring with kids at their homes and classes with adults. The kids were ages 8-13 and when we came over their homes the parents welcomed us with more refreshments, vegetables, pita, and even meat. It was just like walking into a home with a Jewish grandmother, so hospitable and friendly. Tutoring was a little difficult at first, connecting with the kids with the best Hebrew we could, but once we started and got into the swing of things it was a lot of fun for both of us. We played games, helped them with their homework, worked with English books, and just talked to practice English. The classes with the adults were very interesting and we taught everything from colors to food to grammar. Adam Abdullah, one of the Sudanese refugees, was interviewed by a member of Garin Tzedek and we learned of his story from his life in Sudan to his life in Israel now. It is an incredible and inspiring story that is posted about in an earlier blog. Another thing that Section 1 did was donate stuffed animals for Garin Tzedek. Huge bags of stuffed animals were flown over with the Blitzer family as a great contribution. Although we were sad to leave Bat Yam and the families we worked with, Section 1 is now very excited to begin their Garin Tzedek Arad experience. We will be helping out in a gan with Sudanese children and work on more future projects.

The family I worked with, at their home.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Sikkum (Summary) of the Second Semester

As I sit on my porch overlooking Derekh Hebron one more time in South Jerusalem, I can't help but be a bit nostalgic. Among the other memories from the last three months of our program are many of the progress of Garin Tzedek. I can't really speak for the other volunteers currently in Arad or Jerusalem, but I thought it appropriate to summarize some of our progress and continued goals from the nearly over second trimester.

Volunteering in Arad has expanded at a breakneck pace. Section 2 added on a new Sports night program for Sudanese children to play with volunteers and have an extracirricular activity. Night classes in English and Hebrew, as well as formal volunteer placements during the day have increased in capacity and frequency.

Section 1 in Bat Yam has continued section 2's strong work, volunteering in South Tel Aviv 4 days a week and has partnered multiple volunteers with "adoptive families" - parents and children that the volunteers visit, meet, and teach English and Hebrew to on a regular basis.

Section 3 volunteer, Sean MacDonald, went on a week-long US trip to New York, Boston, Houston, and Austin. He spoke to a number of groups including Young Judaea's National MidWinter convention and the AJWS. Despite the President's Weekend snowstorms canceling one event Sean was very successful in laying the groundwork for grants and fundraising in the USA as well as Garinim for the Sudanese refugees and other causes next year. Sean's trip took a lot of coordination from all three sections, YJ Israel, and YJ's national office in New York. A big thanks to Andrew Fretwell for making this possible. In addition to the direct products of Sean's trip, we now have more official resources including a sldeshow, interviews with refugees and volunteers, and:


Designed by members of the Section 1 visual arts track (credit to Leah Whiteman and Saul Schisler)

As of Saturday I decided to cut of my nappy locks, if we can raise $2000 for netbook computers to be used in classes in Arad. We're off to a good start, but are still less than half way there, so please, over the next week and a half donate - it could be $5, or $500, but it would be much appreciated.

All three sections, most successfully section 2, have held social events from "water pong" to intense discussions. Frankly, a huge part of our expansion of the garin relies on enlarging, formalizing, and improving these programs.

While you may have heard of the turmoil in the Yearcourse program since the trimester started, many good biproducts have come from the situation. Namely, Yearcourse's new Director Adam Jenshil and Assistant Director Kate Nachman have made it clear that they are committed to continuing to work with Garin Tzedek this year and in future years and see our work as integral to Yearcourse's future success

I hope that in the coming weeks there will be many more posts regarding this, but we have begun and will continue discussions about:
the expansion of social programming for Yearcourse volunteers, new classes and volunteering with the Sudanese community, the future of this year's Garin members, and future garinim.

This has been a dynamic three-plus months with a lot of progress mixed with a great time in Israel. I think it's safe to say that we have high hopes moving forward.

On a last note, here is an interesting article by Daniella Sheslow about Neve Sha'anan, a neighborhood in Tel Aviv that is home to many Sudanese (and other) immigrants.

Tel Aviv has become something of a melting pot, with immigrants from the Philippines, Romania and South America.
By Daniella Cheslow
Published: February 21, 2010 09:31 ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — On a Thursday night at Mommy's Place, AJ Masajo took his normal place in front of the karaoke screen. Clutching a microphone, the 34-year-old from the Philippines belted out “Sweet Child of Mine,” including an air guitar solo. Masajo, who studied music in Manila, comes to the restaurant each Thursday.

"It's like the Philippines in here,” said Masajo, dressed in dark jeans and a tight pink shirt. He has worked as a caretaker in Israel for the last four years. “In every home in Manila there's karaoke.”

Mommy's Place is owned by an Israeli-Philippino couple, Yossi and Lucy Hazut, who met 19 years ago. The two-story restaurant is right off Neve Sha'anan, a three-block pedestrian walkway lined with cobblestones and framed by crumbling Bauhaus buildings. The street is the service and cultural center to the city's 40,000 foreign workers and 5,000 African refugees, according to the city of Tel Aviv. On weekends they stream onto the pavement to take a rest from cleaning hospitals, walking the elderly and pounding away on construction sites.

Their increasingly vibrant neighborhood is growing into Israel’s first Chinatown. Yet despite investment from city hall, Neve Sha'anan is also a no-man's land of the homeless, prostitutes and drug addicts of Tel Aviv. Urban planners say that until national Israeli policy accepts the non-Jewish foreigners, their neighborhood will remain marginal.

According to Tel Aviv University Geographer Itzhak Schnell, Israel has had foreign workers since the 1980s. The phenomenon expanded in 1993, when then-Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin tightly restricted Palestinian day labor in Israel. Foreign workers from Ghana, Thailand, the Philippines and around the world were eager to replace them, and they built their own social outlets.

“The South Americans had salsa clubs and a soccer league, according to nationality,” Schnell said. “The Filipinos had beauty pageants. ... The Romanians went to brothels.”

In a survey he took of neighboring residents, Schnell found Jewish Tel Avivis of all classes open to the foreign workers, whom they saw as quiet and hard-working. Their only reservation was toward the Romanians because of prostitution.

“Part of the reason was that the foreign workers replaced the Palestinians,” Schnell said. “The Israelis thought [the foreign workers] saved us from terrorist attacks.”

Refugees and asylum seekers from Eritrea, Sudan and other African countries began arriving in 2006. Tel Aviv hosts a growing humanitarian infrastructure including a women’s shelter, a clinic and at least 10 African churches.

The openness of Tel Aviv extends to city hall. Ten years ago the city of Tel Aviv founded Mesila, the only municipal welfare organization for foreigners in Israel. Director Tamar Schwartz said the Sudanese did not start businesses right away.

“In the first year or two years, they were in survival mode,” she told GlobalPost. “Then after a year or two, they got jobs, they found apartments. Once their basic needs were met, they began thinking of other needs.”

Sabir Yagoub, 29, started a coffee house a year and a half ago, six months after fleeing Darfur for Israel.

“I walked around Neve Sha'anan and [nearby] Levinsky Park,” Yagoub said. “I saw the people just sitting there on the grass. I thought the people would want a place to hang out."

On a Saturday at 7 p.m., his coffeehouse at Neve Sha'anan 13 was packed with Sudanese and Eritrean men playing cards, sipping on a warm Sudanese milk drink called leben and gazing at an Italian soccer match. One customer was Ibrahim Saadeldin, 29, a Darfurian refugee who used to clean a synagogue in northern Tel Aviv but who is now learning Hebrew five days a week in the hopes of attending law school.

“We live in the tiniest, narrowest rooms,” Saadeldin said. “We come here to breathe. If I need to meet someone, we always decide to meet here.”

While there are Chinese and Ethiopian restaurants elsewhere in Tel Aviv, nowhere in the city or the country are so many non-Jewish foreign businesses clumped together. According to city spokeswoman, Almog Cohen, Neve Sha'anan hosts 90 businesses, mostly eateries and grocery stores. The city does not keep records on the origins of business owners, Cohen said, but Tel Aviv does not require entrepreneurs to be Israeli citizens.

Almog said Tel Aviv has poured “millions” of shekels into renovating Neve Sha'anan, including repaving the street, improving lighting and renovating the large neighborhood Levinksy Park. She said the city and the police cooperate to reduce crime in the area. Yet in January, a Sudanese refugee was shot dead in a clothing store; a week later, an Eritrean was found fatally stabbed outside a Neve Sha'anan restaurant. Men urinate on the streets. In Levinsky Park, heroin users shoot up along the fence of the basketball court.

Israeli Dani Rahon, 42, has sold Asian groceries such as sweet potato noodles and tom yum soup paste for the last seven years. His Dragon store stays open until midnight on weekends, and Rahon said three staff always stay until close because of security. He said he was attacked at night but declined to elaborate.

Schnell cautions that until Israel becomes more accepting of foreigners, Neve Sha'anan will never be a real Chinatown, “a place that's pleasant to walk around in and enjoy the exoticness.”

For two months in the summer, the Ministry of the Interior ruled that all refugees and asylum seekers must live outside Tel Aviv. That measure was rescinded, but in January Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel was building a fence along the Egyptian border to limit infiltrators. Later in the month he announced a plan to reduce the number of foreign workers in Israel, today estimated at 300,000, by at least 10 percent.

“There are periods when the police comes out, and everyone is terrified,” Schnell said. “To create an atmosphere of vibrant communities, its not just to bring a few cleaners [to the area].”

Still, for a few Israelis, Neve Sha'anan is already a place to feel foreign. Last Saturday, Boaz Shamir, 39, and Tamir Noy, 32, picked their way through a sidewalk lined with peddlers hawking vacuum cleaners, clothes, plates and bike racks. They had just come from a Chinese restaurant. Shamir, a lawyer and soundman, said the neighborhood “is not defined as Chinatown. If it was, the city would invest in it. But it is our Chinatown.”

Added Noy, who works in security, “It’s changing the city and I think it’s for the better.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

New Fundraiser: The Dead Dreads - PLEASE DONATE!!!

Please join donate to our fundraiser to raise $2000 for the new Sudanese Amutah (non-profit organization) in Arad and to cut off my dirty dirty dreadlocks. Our goal is to get $2000 to donate 10 netbooks so the Sudanese community can start a computer class! The fundraiser starts today and will end on March 13th.

Send USA donations to:
Young Judaea
50 W58th Street
New York, NY 10019

Israeli Donations:
Young Judaea
8 Gad Street
Jerusalem 91999

IMPORTANT: in the check memo you need to mention "Garin Tzedek - Dead Dreads" or we won't get the money. If you are sending dollars/shekels attach a small note with your name and indicating that the money you are sending is to be donated to the Garin Tzedek Dead Dreads Fundraiser

Monday, February 15, 2010

Open Letter to NMW 2010

The following is the text of a letter that Garin Tzedek sent to National Midwinter Convention in Austin, TX to be read out to the convention body.

"To the 2010 NMW Convention Body,

Garin Tzedek is a movement within Year Course started by a small group of seniors last year who wanted to bring Young Judaea back to the program. Our group embodies the ideals of tikkun olam, peer leadership and kehila that are so much a part of what makes Young Judaea unique. As the year progressed we began to realize that many of these principles are lacking in the current Year Course program.

At this pivotal moment for Year Course, when you have the ability to reshape this program, we hope you will take the opportunity to make this something all Judaeans can be proud of. The following are some ways we believe Year Course can be improved.

(a) Tiyulim- (consisting of overnight camping trips) should be reinstated. Not only is it an opportunity for participants to bond but also a chance to explore different areas of Israel. One big tiyul when participants first arrive in Israel should also be brought back.

(b) Recreation center in each section - There should be a centralized location open to all Year Coursers (where a madrich or shomer is not required) to hang out as an alternative to the local bar.

(c) Education - All yearcourse members should achieve a basic level of understanding regarding Israel, Judaism, and Zionism. Every yearcourse member has a different potential, but all individuals should be pushed to reach their own.

(d) Siyurim- Siyurim are a wonderful element of the program and are very often the highlight of the week. But they are not put into context. There should be some form of activity, discussion or background information before or after the Siyur.

(e) Kibbutz -Kibbutzim have historically been an influential aspect of the Year Course experience, and despite the fact that they no longer hold as much prominence in Israeli society, we maintain that there should still be a kibbutz option for Year Course chanichim.

(f) Optional intensive Ulpan track- participants should be given the option of joining a track for no extra charge that provides classes, activities or trips for anyone who wants to seriously pursue learning the language.

(g) Making Garin Tzedek an optional track- Garin Tzedek should be a formal track available to all Year Coursers to join at any point in the year. It is a garin for anyone interested in peer leadership and social action.

In general our suggestions revolve around three basic values: altruism (tikun olam), relationships/fraternity (cheverut), Zionism (tziyonut). Our structural suggestions are all minor in comparison with the ideals they represent. We have felt the absence of true social action outside of our garin activities and a half-hearted attempt at building groups (Kvutzot) on the program. To put it into a phrase, Year Course needs to reconnect with the movement (Young Judaea) in the future. We want to be a part of Year Course as a larger mission to a) build and improve Israel, b) individually mature, grow, and find our place within the larger Zionist movement and c) form lifelong bonds to maintain the brotherhood and sisterhood that are essential aspects to Judaism and Zionism.

We sincerely hope you take our suggestions into consideration.


Garin Tzedek"

Monday, February 8, 2010

We've made the AP Wire!

On January 12th a Jerusalem Post reporter came to take some photographs of the Sudanese refugees in Arad. The AP wire has some of the photos on their website, including one with Abova (they spelled it Adaou) and two with Ittai Eres! For now this is the best link we can give you, but hopefully we'll have the full quality photos up soon. Thank you to Ariel Schalit

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sean and Noah on Rusty Mike Radio Jerusalem

Jared Laxer, a Garin member from New Jersey, volunteers at the online English radio station, Rusty Mike Radio, in Jerusalem. JD has a weekly radio show at 12 pm on Wednesday, you can hear it live at Along with his own show, JD interns for Adam Mallerman's "Adam in the Morning" radio show. JD helped set up an interview for Sean and I at the radio station. You can hear it at this link

Big thanks to JD, Adam, and Rusty Mike Radio.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From MSNBC's "WorldBlog"

African refugees try to 'preserve life itself'
Posted: Saturday, December 19, 2009 10:52 AM
Filed Under: Tel Aviv, Israel
By Martin Fletcher, NBC News Correspondent

TEL AVIV – You read about African refugees all the time in newspaper headlines: students jailed in Eritrea, maimed in Somalia, beaten in Sudan, but who pays attention? It’s so far away.

They pop up again in news reports along the route – rotting for years in refugee camps from which they finally escape, seeking work in Egypt where they are attacked, crossing the Sinai desert where Bedouin abuse the men and rape the girls. Some die at the very last moment, shot dead by Egyptian soldiers on Israel’s border. And finally the young survivors reach their last hope for refuge, the end of the line: the Holy Land.

Israel would throw them out, if it could. But thanks to the law and social pressure, around 20,000 Africans, mostly young men aged between 20 and 30, get a last chance when they arrive here.

And slowly life is improving for them. They’ve moved on from a 150 jammed into one large room in south Tel Aviv to 10 in a small room, living off charity and odd jobs. Individuals help them and aid groups try to provide legal advice and teach them English, Hebrew and math.

Now six of them are back in the news, and this time they do get my attention. Zumharat, Ephraim and Yakilu from Eritrea, Muhalidin and Adam from Sudan, Daher from Somalia, were recently profiled in a story for Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper and could be seen forcing a smile for a photographer. Somehow they are putting themselves through college at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a private Israeli university.

Zumharat got his chance while cleaning table at IDC’s cafeteria. "A business lecturer sat down for coffee," he said, "and asked me why I was working instead of studying." That brief encounter with a sympathetic man made Zumharat take stock: why indeed?

He registered to study communications. The school pays half his tuition, and he works 12 hours a day to pay the rest, as well as rent, food and transport. It was the same for all of the students – evenings and nights cleaning houses, sweeping floors, washing dishes and days studying. I thought to myself, it’s all I can do to get my son to tidy his bedroom.

"We hate being dependent on other people," Ephraim said. "We came here because of genocide, or political instability, or to escape a totalitarian regime. We didn’t come here in search of a better life, but to preserve life itself."

Today two of them are helped by Israelis who have pooled resources to pay their tuition. But otherwise, the rest of the group are on their own: survivors thirsting for education and a future, yearning for home, making the best of a lousy lot.

Each dreams of finding the scattered remnants of their families; each wants to return home as proud graduates and help rebuild his shattered nation.

Their horizon is limited to three months though, which is the length of their renewable visas. Israel, afraid that thousands more refugees will arrive, doesn’t want to encourage them.

But Israel shouldn’t worry, promises Muhalidin, we don’t want to stay: "Every one of us dreams of returning home," he said, smiling wanly. "Advanced education is one of the best things Israel can do for us. An education will give us the promise of a better future, it will give us hope."

They’re only six out of thousands. Their stories may inspire other refugees to try to go to school. Israel is still deciding whether to let them stay or not, but while they are here has decided to treat them decently.

And inadequate as it may seem, the little that Israel is doing for these young North Africans is much more than the North African countries through which they passed: they didn’t help at all.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting Active in Arad

On Monday the 11th, Garin Tzedek held its first "Sports Club" night for the Sudanese youth in the Arad community.  Roughly 15 or so kids of varying ages showed up to play a rousing game of soccer:

We hope to continue the club in the coming weeks, offering the kids opportunities to bond with each other and just have a good time.  Unfortunately, the past two Mondays, the club has not met due to poor weather conditions in Arad, but we're looking forward to reconvening next week.

Garin Tzedek has also continued to be very active with extra activities within the Year Course community.  On Tuesday the 12th, Year Course chanichim arrived at the Alon School to participate in "The Dating Game."  As usual, a good time was had by all, and two lucky contestants found their true loves.  The following Tuesday, Garin Tzedek hosted a relaxing night at the Jewish Agency center in Arad consisting of meditation, yoga, and "boundary breakers" designed to bring everyone closer together.  The evening was very enlightening and low-key.

In the meantime, Garin Tzedek has still been conducting English classes for both Sudanese children and adults every Sunday and Tuesday night.  Other exciting projects are still in the works for the Garin in Arad, so look forward to more updates soon!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

JPost: Israel is looking to adopt orphans from Haiti

From the Jerusalem Post Website:

Israel is looking into adopting Haitians orphaned by the January 12 earthquake, Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday.

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog.

"We see this as part of Israel's humanitarian outreach," Herzog said, referring to the IDF medical operation and the Israeli rescue efforts in the Caribbean nation.

"Haiti was one of the countries that supported us on November 29, 1947, [in the UN vote on the establishment of the state], and now it's our turn to support them," he said.

Representatives of the Foreign and Welfare ministries held an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the fine details of possible adoptions. The Welfare Ministry's Child Welfare Services division is responsible for overseeing all international adoptions in Israel.

While Israel already has agreements with several countries such as China and Russia on the procedure for international adoptions, with nearly 200 children per year adopted, no such protocol exists with Haiti, Herzog said.

He added that Israel's ambassador to the neighboring Dominican Republic, Amos Radian, had already started looking into reaching an agreement with Haitian authorities to begin adoptions as soon as possible.

"We first need an agreement with the country's government," explained Herzog. "However, with all the chaos in Haiti, this could take a while."

He said Israel would work with local charities operating in the disaster zone to identify children who need adopting and highlighted that families in Israel had already come forward offering to adopt Haitian children.

On Friday, UNICEF warned that the possibility of child trafficking following the earthquake had become a significant concern. Many children separated from parents have become vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation, it said.

In Israel, families who adopt children from abroad receive €22,000 ($31,097) from the state to help cover the high international adoption fees. Herzog said that all children adopted from Haiti would undergo the standard conversion process to Judaism.


Israel is taking the moral initiative once again. We had the fastest and best run field hospital in the Haiti relief effort and are even going the extra step to be a light unto the nations. Hopefully this example can be followed with the Israeli response to the Sudanese community as well.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Busy Week Back!

Garin Tzedek in Arad has had an engaging week after returning from Year Course's winter break.

On Sunday, an Arad local named Eli Klain came around to the Sudanese ganim in the area and donated bags of bamba to the children.  Eli hopes that this will become a weekly occurrence, and both Garin Tzedek and the Sudanese community in Arad greatly appreciate his contribution.

Then, on Monday, the ganim received another generous donation of stuffed animals from Judith Levitsky, the mother of Garin Tzedek member Simon Levitsky.  The children were completely enamored with the toys, and will enjoy them for many years to come.  Again, everyone (especially the kids!) are very grateful for these great gifts.

Tuesday was a very busy day.  Garin Tzedek members went and taught the first of many English lessons to Sudanese children.  On the first day, we administered a placement test in order to better facilitate teaching.  This way, students of equal skill levels can be placed into smaller groups and be taught more effectively.  Although the students were rowdy, they were eager to learn and do their best on the test:

Then, almost immediately following the lesson, Garin Tzedek hosted its second Garin Tzedek Night at the Alon School.  The aim of Garin Tzedek Nights in Arad is to bring the Year Course Section 2 community closer together and provide opportunities for all Year Course participants to enjoy fun, extra activities.  This past Tuesday we hosted "Fear Pong," a version of Beer Pong using water instead of beer.  In Fear Pong, 4 teams take turns shooting on the cups of the team opposite them.  If a team makes a cup, they call out a person on the other team to drink the water in it and complete its dare.  It was a fun night for everyone who came, with lots of hydration and plenty of ridiculous dares being done:

We can only hope that the coming weeks will be just as productive and enjoyable!  The Arad section of Garin Tzedek has several big projects in the works, so look forward to more exciting updates in the near future.  If you'd like to make a donation of any kind, we are currently having an "everything drive" for the Sudanese community.  Monetary donations are, of course, also accepted--any money you donate could go towards giving Sudanese children in a gan toys, teaching both children and adults English, helping the Sudanese people acquire necessary health care, and many other needs.  We appreciate your continued support, and if you have any questions about Garin Tzedek in Arad, please feel free to send an e-mail to

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jerusalem Garin: Political Action

In Jerusalem there is no significant Sudanese community to speak of, so it has been hard for us to formulate major projects or initiatives. However, GT-Jerusalem has held a meeting to determine our programmatic focus for the section and is having a follow-up meeting in the coming days. Our first meeting highlighted the need to exploit Jerusalem's advantages as a cultural and academic center in the country to learn educate ourselves and others about not only the situation of the refugees in Israel, but also to take some political action in the Knesset's back yard. The following is a rough draft of a letter that we will be getting signatures for in Jerusalem to send to United States Representative (and YJ parent) Shelley Berkley of Nevada calling for action to aide Israel in helping the Sudanese refugees here.

Dear Congresswomen Berkley,

As you well know Sudan and Darfur have been conflict areas of increasing global interest in recent years. However the current violence in the region outdates the media coverage and spans back more than twenty years. The political, religious, ethnic, and tribal tensions that have caused the ongoing humanitarian crisis between the Arab North and Black South and West of Sudan stem back to the late ‘80s. Millions have died as a result of the fighting, raiding, slave trading, burning, raping, harassment, and starvation. Since 2005 there has been a truce and some progress towards an ultimate peace, but millions of displaced persons from Sudan are still dispersed throughout the globe, including in Israel.

Israel has an outstanding record on human rights, despite being on the frontlines of the war on terror and repeated slander by some media outlets. Israel has many faults, this we know, but there is also much to be proud of. Israel does not allow torture. Israel gives its citizens and press full liberty to criticize the government. One third of all Israeli young adults volunteer for one of the hundreds of Human Rights related organizations in Israel. Many Israeli youth take a year before their mandatory army service known as a שנת שרות, Shnat Shirut, or “year of service” in the literal translation to volunteer in underprivileged areas. The Israeli Supreme Court has made ruling after ruling in favor of human dignity, individual liberty, and respect of the interests of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Seculars. In regards to the Sudanese refugees Israel has taken yet another stance on the side of justice by allowing them temporary and sometimes permanent refuge in the country. By contrast Egypt shoots at the same refugees when they attempt to cross their borders and Northern Sudan has killed hundreds of thousands of Dinka, Nuer, Nuba, Bari, Fur (Darfur), and numerous other tribes of Black-African Sudanese men, women, and children. By taking in this newest group of refugees Israel is following the same precedent set by Menachem Begin with the Boat People of Vietnam; the precedent set by David Ben Gurion when signing of the Law of Return and absorbing the millions of Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab countries; and the precedent set by Yitzchak Shamir and Yitzchak Rabin in the case of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry.

However, Israel’s actions have brought strain on its government and people that are hard to alleviate. Many of the refugees have settled in small, underprivileged communities on Israel’s periphery and have taken the jobs that native Israelis would normally have to sustain themselves. The Sudanese also do not always have proper medical or legal care and documentation and are difficult to set policy for as they are from an enemy country and could continue to arrive in larger and larger numbers if there is an incentive to do so. For this reason Israel’s government has had a cold reaction to the influx of refugees from Darfur and Southern Sudan characterized by begrudgingly given aid. While many Israeli volunteers have helped to provide education, health, and social services their help is not always enough.

I am signing this letter to you because I believe that the United States has a responsibility, as Israel’s closest ally to help with this humanitarian issue. You more than most others understand your moral obligation as a Jew, an American, a Social Servant, and a World Citizen to help these people however you can. I urge you to introduce legislation that provides Israel with either financial aid to deal with the refugees or proposes to transfer a large number of them to the United States, the Golden Medinah, where there are greater sources of funding to deal with their community issues. We said the we believed in good, we said that we will be a light unto the nations, we said, “Never again!” Please fulfill these prophecies.

B’Shalom U’vracha,

Todah Rabah