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

So Long Sean!

I am proud to announce that Garin Tzedek has recently elected to send Sean MacDonald to the US from February 8-16 for a week long whistle-stop tour including New York, Northern New Jersey, Boston, Houston, and Austin. Sean will be speaking to many groups including a group of Young Judaea alumni and the Young Judaea National Midwinter Convention body about the activities of the Garin in hopes of raising money to pay for our expanded program set and raise awareness about what we've been doing this year. Hopefully upon his return (of course to a full ticker-tape parade and beds of roses) Sean will have vastly expanded our network of friends and supporters in the States. Good luck Sean!