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PDI: Professional Development Institute

Cohort 2: July 2011

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem

Posted on 07/30/2010 @ 07:10 PM

Tags: PDI

PDI Israel


By Stacy Heller, Great Midwest Region Program Director

"Shabbat Shalom." People are rushing around saying this as they quickly make all of their last minute purchases for Shabbat on a Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. If you ever get the opportunity to experience Machane Yehudah (the Jewish market), I highly suggest you go on a Friday during the early hours leading up to Shabbat. In between all of the hustle and bustle of the local community, you will find people from all over the world who come to Machane Yehudah just for the Friday afternoon experience. Families picking up Challah and fruit for their Shabbat Dinner table, young children surrounding the candy stands, merchants calling to you to come over and make a purchase from their stand and of course the delicious smell of chocolate rugallah from Marzapan Bakery (which happens to be our groups favorite bakery).

Today our group came full circle on our journey together. We departed the north and spent the morning driving to Jerusalem (where we started out) and now we will spend our final Shabbat and weekend together in the same place. However, this time we have a better understanding of the land of Israel. We have explored many sites, met with numerous of people from different communities and organizations and learned from our professors and each other.

When we arrived in Jerusalem, some of us headed to Machane Yehudah, others spend time eating Falafel and shopping at Ben Yehudah Street, while the rest of the group relaxed at the hotel in preparation for Shabbat. Right before it was time to bring in Shabbat, we gathered together, the females lit Shabbos candles and wished everyone "Shabbat Shalom." After this we split up in group and headed to a variety of synagogues for services.

This evening I spend Shabbat Services at Shira Hadasha, which is an orthodox congregation. Men and women pray separately on either side of a mechitza (divider) that runs down the middle of the sanctuary. The bima is in the center which provides equal access for both sides of the mechitza. What I enjoyed about this synagogue is the women get opportunities to lead optional parts of the service, such as Kabbalat Shabbat from the women's side of the mechitza. Women are also called to the Torah and can make Kiddush. What's special about their Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat service is the entire service is done in harmonious singing. It is one of the most intentional spirited services that I have ever been to. The ruach and harmonious sounds in the sanctuary are absolutely beautiful. Shira Hadasha is a very well known synagogue that draws in a lot of visitors, so i you plan to go, definitely get there early for good seats!

Our evening concluded with a nice Shabbat Dinner together at our hotel followed by a meaningful discussion with our group and professors.


Lost in Tsfat

Posted on 07/29/2010 @ 07:10 PM

Tags: PDI

PDI Israel


by Rachel Heilbronner, Rocky Mountain Region Program Director

Most of us were eager to spend the better part of Thursday in Tsfat. After a morning learning session with Rabbi Dr. David Starr (aka ra-doc-starr), we boarded the bus and braced ourselves for a hilly and windy road, (Dramamine a necessity for some). We arrived safely after only one game of chicken with a cab, and Avi, our fearless bus driver and former tank commander, won that game fairly easily. A little bit of “rak b’yisrael” (only in Israel) morning entertainment for the rest of us…

Tsfat is the highest city in Israel, sitting at an altitude of 900 meters and providing its visitors and residents with stunning views of the valleys below. It has been known as one of Israel’s holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Tiberias and Hebron. After the Spanish Inquisition Jews began to find their way there, including some of the important Kabbalists, and the city began to increase in significance. Since then, it has been the center of Kabbalah and mysticism.

These days, people mostly come to the city for a couple of hours, and we were certainly no exception, though we did stick around for most of the day. We joined throngs of Birthright participants in the twisted streets, trying to take in the sights and sounds, doing everything possible to escape the relentless sun. We started our day with some autonomy, after a quick learning session about basic history of the city, we split into small groups and took self-guided tours through a story that led us to different places of significance around the city. We were then able to enjoy a bit of free time and break for lunch before heading to a place where most visitors don’t go in the city, the museum of Hungarian Jewish Heritage. One of the things that came out of this visit was a discussion about the early youth movements in Israel. This kind of information is something that we can turn into programming with our teens, and it is likely a few of us will do that as part of putting this Israel experience into practice.

Our final stop in Tsfat, before having more free time to shop in the art, Judaica and jewelry stores, was a quick visit to an organization called Livnot U’Lehibanot, which translates to “To Build and To Be Built.” Livnot tries to bring unaffiliated Jews to Israel to give them meaningful Jewish experiences (sound familiar?). The director showed us the site of their new building, and then took us up to their current office, where he spoke to us a little bit about the organization, but did not go into as much depth as we would’ve hoped. We met with two former Livnot participants who are married and living in Israel now, both studying at different Yeshivas in Jerusalem.

Though we spent a number of hours in a very spiritual place, I think most of my colleagues would agree with me when I say that dinner was actually the most spiritual part of the day. We ate a place called Ein Kamonim, an organic dairy farm, which did not disappoint. We were able to try a variety of cheeses (paired with good wine!), multi-grain rolls straight out of the oven, different salads and spreads, yogurt, and baked apples and sorbet for dessert. Feeling satisfied, we split up into three groups for the rest of the evening. Some opted to go back to the hotel, some went on a night hike, and some went to the Carmiel International Folk Dance Festival. As our time in the northern part of Israel concluded-- five days that were rife with a variety of experiences--anticipation hung in the air for our second and final Shabbat in Jerusalem.


On Jewish Peoplehood

Posted on 07/28/2010 @ 07:10 PM

Tags: PDI

PDI Israel


By Emily Frank, Rocky Mountain Region Program Director

Today, we spent the day learning, both with Israeli education students and by ourselves, at Oranim College in the North. Today was the first day that we had academically discussed the concept of Jewish peoplehood. While this might seem like a discussion that is strange to leave until the end of a study program, I think it was necessary. You cannot intellectually investigate the concept of the Jewish people, until you have explored it emotionally. From Jerusalem to Gush Etzion, Nitzan, Sachnin and Tel Aviv, we have seen so many sides of the Israeli people, we have had no choice but to reflect on how we feel as members of the Jewish people. So today, after a week and a half of emotional exposure to Israel (while academically exploring other facets of the country) we finally tackled the idea of the Jewish people.

The day began with a lecture by Dr. David Mittleberg. He talked about divergent and convergent dimensions of Jewish peoplehood. The most important component of this exploration is that of the globalization of the Jewish (and secular) world. The world is now flatter than it has ever been, and the ease of access and connection to worldwide culture is integral to the definition of Jewish peoplehood. He had a few points that were especially relevant for us in BBYO.

  • Most Jews have multiple identities. Jewish-American. Secular-Israeli. National-Religious. Those multiple identities are hard to navigate, since we often feel that we must pick one or the other. Rather, the most important part of those multiple identities is the hyphen itself, and the ability to connect more than one identity. We feel this as American Jews, BBYO employees, Jewish educators and (sometimes) Zionists, all the time. We must learn to appreciate not only the hyphen, but also the list.
  • In a recent survey, 45% of North American Jews who had traveled to Israel and who classified themselves as “Just Jewish” (not reform, conservative or orthodox) said that they had an emotional connection to Israel. This means that the other 55% of those same people went on an Israel trip that did NOT result in an emotional connection. This statistic impacts our Israel education methodology, our trip curricula and our understanding of the impact of Israel alone on the global Jewish community. We, as educators, must redefine our strategies for connecting our teens not only to Israel, but also to the global Jewish population. One of the most poignant lines from the lecture was “what happens here matters…” meaning; you can’t just drop a trip in Israel and expect them to find inherent meaning in the land. The trip, the curriculum, the staff and the schedule are all crucial components of making a trip successful
  • One of the most influential experiences for Americans can be travel to Israel – but so too, the most influential Jewish experience for Israelis can be travel to the US. We don’t often understand our own religiousness, Jewishness or culture until we have experienced it in a different environment. This is even more evidence that globalization of the Jewish community, and acknowledgement of the “flattened” world is essential to affiliation, connection and a positive relationship with one’s own Jewishness.

After the lecture, we divided into groups with Israeli education students from Oranim College. There were four groups that dealt with four components of discovering Jewish peoplehood and dialoguing about the differences and similarities between Americans and Israelis.

After lunch at the Oranim Cafeteria, we had a lesson with Rabbi Dr. David Starr, where we finally had the time and personal experience needed to delve into the timelines and maps that we’ve been carrying around with us for the past week and a half. The session was great – full of questions and information, and hopefully we will get to continue it soon, since we only made it through the first World War. Our final session at Oranim was a Hebrew lesson with Roberta. The shoresh of the day was “Mercaz” or center. The lesson itself was great, but the most important piece for many of us was Roberta’s decision to share with us where her concentration, or center, has been for the past few days.

Roberta shared that her son, who is a helicopter pilot in the Israeli Army, is in Romania doing training exercises with Romanian Air Force. On Monday, her son was in a line of helicopters practicing routes through a very mountainous region when the first helicopter in the line suddenly found itself between two very close mountains, and trapped in a low hanging cloud. The other units pulled back, but that first helicopter unfortunately crashed, almost immediately, into a mountain and burst into flame before it went down in the mountains of Romania.

Roberta’s son was in the third helicopter and physically, he is fine. However, the mental and emotional repercussions of what happened are unimaginable to us. He lost 6 comrades, including his commanding officer, whom Roberta referred to as her son’s “hero.” The pictures in the newspaper of the six Israelis lost in this accident showed their youth, as well as many of their young children, and brought to life the realities of an Israeli existence. Having children or a husband or family in the army creates a level of anxiety most of us cannot imagine, and the process of internalizing how that affects a person’s sense of peoplehood was shocking.

The pride that Roberta expressed in her son’s commitment to his country, and his fallen comrades, is a kind of pride Jewish American mothers don’t frequently feel. Her son’s decision to stay in Romania and maintain his role in his unit while waiting for the Hevre Kadisha (the Jewish burial authorities) to come and search for remains was one that brought her such conflicted emotions - one of which was an incredible sense of pride in her son’s commitment – and how many parents have children under 20 that inspire that kind of emotion?

Roberta’s strength as a mother is both heartbreaking and moving. We know life is different here, but belonging to the Jewish people here means something entirely other. Yes, it means risking your life – and the life of your family, or your husband or your son – and finding pride, hope and community inside the anxiety that is surprisingly rare. But it also allows for a commitment and a sense of unity that is unthinkable in our own lives. We listened to Roberta’s story, many of us with tears in our own eyes as hers remained dry. Those tears came from a place of belonging for us – her son and his unit sacrificing so much to learn to protect the land we are learning to love means that we are as much a part of this whole as Roberta… and that is not an easy emotion to comprehend.

Jewish peoplehood is complicated, but also wonderful and inescapable. Loving Israel is complicated. Being Jewish is complicated. Today, we ended the day with incredible dimension to our struggle, and tomorrow we start again, in a different place, with different complications.


The Other in Israeli Society

Posted on 07/27/2010 @ 07:10 PM

Tags: PDI

PDI Israel


By Ian Kandel, Northern Region East/DC Council Program Director

As the BBYO PDI Seminar continues to roll through northern Israel, we spent Tuesday exploring Israel’s significant and diverse Arab minority. Representing approximately 20% of the Israeli population, the Arab community enriches Israel’s citizenry mosaic in tremendous ways. Israel’s Arabs can be categorized in many ways: Christian, Muslim, Druze, and beyond. Yet, they share a vast number of cultural, geo-political, and identity-oriented commonalities, especially as they collectively navigate the historical and present day contexts of living in the world’s only Jewish state.

Following an early morning Hebrew class focused on the word of ‘אחרה’, which means ‘other’, we explored the origins and current dilemmas of Israel’s other significantly sized constituencies. Israel’s northern region, the ‘Galil’ or Galilee, is nearly 80% Arab (of varying religions and cultures). While the Jewish demography is growing in this region, the Arab community of Israel is an important component of modern day Israel’s identity, democracy, and future. It is through these lenses that we tried to understand their past, existing roles and dreams as they continue to travel unique pathways of integration, isolation, and identity preservation.

Our first visit of the day brought us to face-to-face with a young man not unlike us. A college graduate, well-spoken, in his late-20’s/early-30’s, and a passionate community youth advocate, Lafez Assadi, the Director of Youth Services for the Muslim village of Dir Al-Assad gave us a detailed and enthusiastic overview of what he and his team of volunteers are doing to cultivate proud, responsible and positive identities for thousands of local Arab children and youth. His role in the village is parallel to that of a BBYO regional or city director.

As a liaison between the community institutions and the parents of thousands of local youth, he facilitates afterschool programs, leadership experiences, and summer camp get-a-ways for a growing number of energetic Israeli Arabs. With limited resources, few colleagues, and endless demand, Assadi is moving mountains in a community that up until recently saw a repetitive cycle of lackluster, uninspiring youth engagement. What made Assadi even more unique – and further admirable – was that he is a proud alum and current community leader for one of Israel’s largest Zionist youth movements ‘Dror Israel (with a much longer name in Hebrew!)’. Yes, you read that accurately. While Lafez explained that his end goal is to ensure that the Arab youth he is working with grow to be complete humans with respect for everyone and interest in building their own community, there is no other choice – and one that yields advantages and progress – than to interact and integrate with the Jewish majority. What ultimate results these efforts will yield for Israel years from now are unknown, but Assadi’s are definitely steps taken that are so desperately needed.

Assadi explained that the Jewish Agency is supporting his efforts and how challenging that is for his community to accept (some peers even see him as traitorous for accepting ‘Jewish funds’ to strengthen the Arab community), but Assadi is relentless. He sees the growth and maturity of the youth he works with and the rapid expansion of his program, and he knows what he is doing is both right and important. This was our second encounter with peer youth professionals in the ‘Dror Israel’ youth movement, and we’re excited to see if our paths will cross with Lafez Assadi again in the future as we expand BBYO’s relationship with the Israeli youth (Jew and Arab) community.

After our time at the Arab Youth Center, we made our way to the Druze village of Sajur for a traditional, festive Druze meal. The (delicious) break allowed for the PDI cohort to assess and internalize what we had learned from Lafez Assadi earlier that day. While we had a qualitative exchange of questions and answers with him, we could see both successes and obstacles in his – and the broader Arab community’s exchanges – with Israel’s, well, bureaucracy. Israel’s public service systems aren’t easy to navigate, especially for Arabs. With the day filled with further dialogue, we were guaranteed to hear more perspectives on this important issue.

Our next stop took us to the Center for Social Change in the Druze village of Yirka where we met with the center’s director, Walid. Walid’s time with us was much less about his Druze identity and the Druze faith and much more about his personal perspectives on where Israel’s Arab community is headed given the current dynamics.

(The Druze community is a fascinating and important Arab minority within Israel that is nationalistically supportive, serves in the army, considerably integrated, protected and visibly championed within the State. It’s a community that most of our teen Passport to Israel trips meet during their tours, and that most of us as PDI students had had past experiences with on previous visits to Israel. For more information on the Israeli Druze, HYPERLINK " on Israel- The Druze in Israel" you can learn more here.)

While we have always understood the Druze community to be on positive terms with Israel, Walid did express underlying challenges that the Druze community faces as a part of the broader Arab population. There are inconsistencies and inequalities when it comes to community funding, educational opportunities, democratic representation and access to government leaders. While the Arab community acknowledges they own some of the responsibility for not being mobilized enough, engaged enough, and articulate enough, these are significant areas of focus that the government of Israel – at both the municipal and national level – needs to devote attention to. If for no other reason than to ensure that this community (and the Druze specifically) don’t slide further apart as the country continues to move forward.

Walid, and his organization, are working hard to build bridges with Israel’s Jewish influentials and change-makers, and it was interesting to hear about what an Arab veteran of the Israeli army saw for his community’s future. While present day challenges have certainly tapered his idealism, Walid remains optimistic. There’s no question that through more of these exchanges, both with Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jewish communities, and further education about ‘the other’ of both sides, we can ensure that the Druze community remains an exemplary (relatively) Arab constituency within Israel’s non-Jewish tapestry.

After a long day of information and self-reflection, we began our journey across the Galil valley toward our last stop, with a brief detour at one of northern Israel’s largest malls. While it offered a brief break to reach for Naot sandals at factory outlet prices, heavily-discounted World Cup attire and a coffee afuk for those that wanted, it also gave us an opportunity to see a thriving Jewish and Arab community in the ‘real world’, alongside one another in a commercial and communal setting. It was interesting for us to be made so aware of the divide all day long, and then see the ‘effortless’ co-existence with such a common backdrop. As it turns out, the break was valuable for far more than just a souvenir stop.

Our evening concluded with a powerful story. We gathered for dinner at the home of Kamla Mussa, an incredibly talented Israeli Arab chef and caterer for an incredible dinner. One of our best meals in Israel yet, we were instantaneously won over by her talent and attention to us. Once full, Kamla shared her story with us over traditional Arab desserts.

In brief, she found herself in a traditional Arab lifestyle with a determined marriage years ago, and she wanted more. Her conservative Muslim framework defined her gender role as one with little freedom. Yet, she pushed and found her way to employment as a hotel chambermaid and then onto the kitchen staff of a nearby kibbutz where she discovered an inherent gift of cooking. After a while, and significant convincing of her husband and his family, it became clear that Mussa could establish a successful restaurant and catering business, which she went on to do. Then, tragedy struck her family. A brother-in-law murdered a member of a rival clan, and due to Arab tradition, this threatened the lives of Mussa and her family (revenge with reciprocal consequence is permissible in the Israeli Arab community, and Israel’s Jewish authorities are limited in what they can do). Mussa’s family was forced to flee their home and relocated to the Arab city of Sachnin where she and her husband, sister, and her children have been living for three years in exile. Thus, all the work that she had put into establishing herself professionally entered a period of distress due to her unusual, temporary living arrangement. Then, as the meal ended, we gratefully learned that an agreement had been reached that same day with the rival Arab clan and that in September, Mussa will finally be able to return to her home and re-open her business. It’s been a long, exhaustive and painful period in all of their lives. That said, you’d never know by her product or service; we unanimously agreed that Mussa undoubtedly has a guaranteed future in both Israeli Arab culinary ventures and social change.

The day in the Israeli Arab community wasn’t our first exploring Israel’s non-Jewish communities or democratic complexities, but it was certainly an eye-opening and thought provoking itinerary. With lots of questions about equality, justice, coexistence, education and modernizing Zionism we have entirely new lists of topics to explore with our educators and the Jewish leaders we’re to meet with throughout the rest of our journey. Further, this context is important as we work hard to build appreciations for Israel’s complexities amidst the thousands of Jewish Diaspora teens that we work with year round. The stories of Israel’s Arabs need to be told and the challenges ahead shared, but it’s clear that there is an opportunity for our generation (and for those that are to follow us) to make positive impact on a stronger, more just, and more united State of Israel.

We’re just getting started …


Kibbutzim: Early Pioneers to Today

Posted on 07/26/2010 @ 07:10 PM

Tags: PDI

PDI Israel

By Rebekah Smith, Big Apple Region Program Director

We started our day with a visit to the historic Kinneret Cemetery for a guided tour with Muki Tzur. The Kinneret is the only natural freshwater lake in Israel and is a major water source for the country. Because of this, the history of the region and the pioneers who settled and developed this land is rich. Our tour guide, Muki, was born in Jerusalem and had lived on a kibbutz on the shores of the Kinneret since 1956. He is a noted historian, thinker, storyteller and leader of the kibbutz movement. Despite the 104-degree weather this morning, Muki captured all of our attention with his charismatic and nostalgic stories of the history of this area and its people. One of the people buried in the Kinneret Cemetery is Rachel the poet. Rachel’s poetry has inspired many individuals, including a woman named Shelli Greenspun, who was so affected by the words of Rachel’s poetry that she insisted on being buried near her in the Kinneret Cemetary.


Afterwards, we traveled to nearby Makom B’Sejera, located in one of the original pioneering communities, for lunch. All the food at this organic restaurant is made the moment you order it, and this blog is not big enough for the descriptions of the many delicious things we ate. You can get an idea from the dessert pictured above. II will attempt to describe how amazing this meal was, but I know my words will not capture the experience. We started out with two different organic salads, lemonade made with fresh stevia (Makom B’Sejera does not use sugar, but rather sweetens with the leaves of the stevia plant), and another juice made from apples and sabra fruit. Shortly after, we were brought fresh homemade whole-wheat pita with hummus made from chickpeas that had already sprouted (traditional hummus is made from chickpeas before they sprout), along with whole-wheat pasta with Cornish hen, raisins and nuts. More drinks came out (peach ice tea and juice made with figs and banana), and rice made with quail, ground lamb, pumpkin seeds, raisins and walnuts. At this point, we are all getting a bit full, but our meal was only halfway over! Our last drink arrived (juice made from apples, dates, and pears) along with lamb and veal kabobs, which were incredibly delicious! Of course no meal is complete without dessert, which was Belgian chocolate flavored ice cream made with cactus milk and drizzled with date syrup (similar to honey, but more delicious) and sprinkled with roasted granola. All in all, it was a satisfying meal and one of the best I have ever had. Some of us even took pictures with the owner/chef and got information from them about how to email in for recipes.

After lunch, we drive to the Misgav Region and split into three groups to explore different Jewish communities with different ideological, ethnic, or religious characteristics. I was lucky enough to visit Eshbal:

Eshbal is the newest kibbutz in Israel, and therefore the world. Established in 1997 by several young alumni of the youth movement D’ror Israel, Eshbal focuses only on education, rather than agriculture or religion like many other kibbutzim. We had the opportunity to meet with Gilad and Rachel, two of the founding members of the kibbutz and hear about their ideologies and history of Eshbal. Having had a transformative experience in his own youth group, Gilad and the other founders desired to live an adult life through the framework of that youth group and made the decision to start this kibbutz from scratch. Throughout their experience in D’ror Israel, each topic of discussion was prefaced by the same three questions: 1. What is the reality around you? 2. What is your opinion about this reality (also, what is your dream)? and 3. What can you do to bridge the gap between the reality and the dream? Using this framework and applying it to Eshbal has allowed this new kibbutz to grow to 60 educators who serve a population of over 4,000 youth.

Eshbal is only one part of a larger movement (D’ror Israel) and all together there are 100,000 youth served from Mitzpeh Ramon in the south to the kibbutz in the north. Eshbal believes that Zionism is the new direction in the Galilee region, and strongly promotes the education of Arab youth. A boarding school run at the kibbutz serves teenagers who have been expelled from other schools, kicked out of their homes, and might otherwise be living on the streets or in jail. Many of these teens are Ethiopian, and one of the goals of the kibbutz is to introduce the overall Ethiopian population to the population. Recognizing the importance of informal education, Eshbal strives to better Israeli society through education. The 60 educators at Eshbal frame all of their education with the same three-question model that many of them grew up with, but in a more informal manner. In order to teach the teens a sense of responsibility, the kibbutz owns three horses that the boarding school teens are charged with taking care of. The program lasts for three years, and is currently graduating its fifth class.

When Gilad was asked the ideology of the kibbutz, he responded by saying that they are a “Jewish, Zionist, humanist movement.” We all have the obligation of tikkin olam (repairing the world), and as Jews we can achieve this through the education of not only other Jews in society, but of all the humans around us. We also asked Gilad why Eshbal was not an agricultural kibbutz, as so many traditionally are. His response was that we all have both the right and the obligation to take care of the land, but the land belongs to everyone. Being “in the land” is also about education, and going into the different parts of Israeli society and education as a means of taking care of the land.

This kibbutz and our meeting with two of its founders particularly affected me because it was so different than the traditional kibbutz model I have learned about previously. The kibbutz model in general is slowly shrinking in Israel, and having the opportunity to speak to two individuals who pioneered this distinctive and atypical type of kibbutz at the age of 21 was both refreshing and incredibly impressive. The importance of education, especially educating those who may have been given up on by others, rings throughout the ideologies of Eshbal and having the opportunity to speak with and learn from some of the founders of this kibbutz was an invaluable experience to me as an informal educator. For more information about Eshbal, please visit

After we reconvened and all three groups were able to share with one another their experiences of the afternoon, we boarded the bus once again and drove to Achziv Beach for dinner. We had a great (small) meal together on the beach, under a full moon. Today is also Tu B’Av, which according to the Talmud, is a day for courtship in the fields and this “love day” is Israel’s answer to Valentine’s Day.


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