Alex, a Holocaust survivor living in Israel.
Where I live, in South Tel Aviv, crumbling facades and rundown buildings are just as numerous as the chic bars and modern storefronts that one typically associates with the city.
Appearance-wise, it makes sense that Birthright Israel, a program designed to entice young Jews to come to Israel, would skip my neighborhood. South Tel Aviv is poor. Daily life is more of a visible struggle here. There are more beggars on the street, more prematurely weathered hands digging through the trash to find their next meal. There are people in need here -- Jews in need -- and it's not a pretty or an easy thing to see, but it's something we need to see.
After my Birthright experience, I knew there was another side to Israel that I needed to experience in order to truly love and understand Israel, a country that had come to mean so much to me. So, four years after I first set foot on Israeli soil, I'm back as a Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa participant, working to aid and embrace "The White City" in whatever way I can.
Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa is both and educational and an experiential program. Participants divide their time between studying Hebrew, Jewish texts, art and history (among other subjects) at Bina -- one of the only secular yeshivas in Israel -- and volunteering/interning for social action and coexistence programs in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Such programs include (but are not limited to) afterschool tutoring programs for at-risk youth, volunteering at safe houses for LGBT teens and leading integrated acting classes for Jewish, Muslim, Druze and African teens. It's exhausting work, but each night, my remarkable peers return home smiling with the knowledge that they made a difference for someone that day.
The work I do is a little less hands-on day-to-day. I work as an intern at Latet Israeli Humanitarian Aid, which provides aid to Holocaust survivors and families in need across Israel. I work in Latet's Development and Community Relations Office where, with two of my fellow interns, I work on English grants, marketing materials, and international outreach. Most days, our work at the Latet office is meaningful but not terribly glamorous. However, last month, I had the extraordinary treat of visiting one of the Holocaust survivors who benefits from Latet's services.
Alex is a wiry gentleman in his 80s with faded Russian military tattoos on his hands and the gruff voice of a man who has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for several decades. Most of the food on his kitchen shelves is canned or boxed, having come from Latet's supplementary food packages and yearly food drives. His living room also doubles as a bedroom in order to make space for the cobbler shop that Alex runs out of his apartment.
On the day of my visit, Latet was installing kitchen shelves, a new armoire and safety railings in Alex's home -- a service Latet offers to Holocaust survivors who need extra aid and spend a lot of time alone. I was there to photograph the renovations, but all I could see through my camera lens was Alex and the quiet pleasure that filled his eyes each time a new piece was installed. As soon as the kitchen shelf went in, Alex began piling it with food; when the new armoire was finished, he immediately pulled clothes off the chair that had acted as his dresser and began purposefully placing them inside; when the shower railings were finished, he practiced getting in and out, clearly grateful not to have to use an old plastic strap to steady himself anymore.
It took several hours to build and install all of the additions to Alex's home, but to me, the entire experience seemed to pass in a matter of minutes. As the handymen hammered and nailed away in the background, Alex gathered us on the couch of his living room/bedroom and told us the story of his life. And while I only understood a fraction of Alex's accented Hebrew, I felt a strong connection to him by the end of the afternoon; I didn't need language to understand his soul.
I left that day with a renewed vigor for my work at Latet, having seen with my own eyes the good that hours of work behind a winking computer screen can do. My efforts not only meant something, they brought about positive change that I got to see with my very own eyes.
Working at Latet and meeting people like Alex are experiences that have reshaped (and continue to reshape) my vision of Israel. Before Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I thought I knew Israel. But I see now that my knowledge of Israel was limited to the famous places that one finds on a postcard like the Old City and the Dead Sea. Now, after two and a half months of working and living with the people of South Tel Aviv, I have richer experiences to write home about.
I can't believe my good fortune to be a part of this amazing program and the profundity of the experiences I'm having. I have never felt so close to Israel and the Jewish people as I feel right now.
My roommates and I lounged around in Sunday pajamas, which became our outfits for the day, when a friend walked in, plopped onto our sofa and announced how last night she had come close to losing her virginity.
"Do I have a story to tell you," Frieda Leah said to us four-suddenly-transfixed-"you"s.
It started with a high ponytail, a pair of acid wash skinny jeans and a couple of modest vodka rounds. Cutting through the bar throng, Frieda Leah was approached by John, whose body smelled of packed people and breath reeked of bottled yeast. John said he remembered F.L. from freshman year oral communication class.
"What a smooth talker," she said with a faraway glance.
John showered her with compliments at the bar and before long the two were making out on her tie-dye blanket back in her apartment. She described the pace and place of their movements and how their contact erotically accelerated. It wasn't long until John made his intentions clear: he wanted to have sex -- without a condom.
My roommates and I were like tamed snakes wholly bewitched by the tune F.L. played. My mouth tasted dry, at which point I realized I was gaping.
When F.L. decided things between her and John were getting precariously pregnant, she told him flat out, "I'm not having sex with you." And his single response sobered Frieda Leah to guilt.
"Did you know we weren't going to have sex when you brought me here?" he asked.
Side note: In every moment we have the right to change our minds, and we often do at the expense of another's expectation. In this moment, F.L. did not change her mind, but told her mind, which serves as a commentary on our need to be better communicators so expectations are consensually fitting before they are formed.
Last year I lived in a dorm with a library that made me feel misplaced without a terry cloth robe and engraved Sherry glass. I would do almost all my work in that library and take frequent breaks to chat with Wyn. He would tell me about the screaming nuns in Catholic school and I would tell him whatever he wanted to know about Judaism. One day though, I put religious discussions aside and asked Wyn about sex. (Tell someone once in your life that you're a virgin, and I promise, you'll be replaying their furrowed, blushing and contorting face as they process the unfathomable over and over. It's pure gold.)
I asked Wyn how long he usually waits after meeting a girl for them to have sex. He said usually after their third hangout or date, confirming the Hollywood image I knew. "But, I'm seeing this girl right now and I've never met anyone like her," he said. "I want it to be special, so I'm going to wait three weeks."
In my 2.5-hour poetry workshop class, it doesn't take long to discover who among the crew isn't catching on. With a class of 17 "success-exually" prowling poets, my homework is to read about drugs and sex.
I've scanned stanzas of Skype sex that described "pink pixels," cringed through rhymes of rape and blushed at ballads depicting boats hitting the dock back and forth, driven by the current. My poems, on the other hand, were about a pickpocket, a mother putting her daughter to sleep with a fairy tale, and moving into a new house. They're not the poems that have you running to google "areola" and "coitus." (Never mistakenly hit Google Images.)
When I was at my Bubby's for Sukkot, I was trying to find one of my poems in a folder and she accidentally picked up one of my classmates' entitled "I Lost My Penis." My Bubby's blouse rippled as she shook in a fit of laughter. If Mom and Dad had been there I would have heard for the umpteenth time their disgust and misgivings over not sending me to Stern College for Women (a Jewish university).
I don't judge Frieda Leah; how can I? Do I consider myself much better? Not at all. Because to be poetic -- to wield a judge's mallet against another -- requires virtuous values that my own two feet cannot support. And to be blunt, we all can relate to having sexual drives.
Being immersed in secular college, with its own cultural code of conduct, my Orthodox ideologies are being pushed and shoved to accept or reject this sex culture that I haven't come to terms with. As an Orthodox Jew I believe in saving sex for marriage, and as a Jewish college student I feel this tug of war between making my parents proud
while enjoying the funnest years of my life. But, just as Me, I know I'm deeply jealous of those who don't have to reconcile both.
To my sexually active peers who read this, use protection. To my very modest friends, don't worry, I promise the world is safe. To mothers who read this, teach your kids everything they need to know about sex before sending them to school. And to sisters who read this, make sure mom isn't reading this.
Food and eating has and always will be special and unifying to my family. There is no doubt about it -- the kitchen is by far the most important room in my parents' home. They are forever hosting and it doesn't matter if you stop by for a few minutes or a few hours, you won't be allowed to leave until you've had a beverage and some homemade goodness.
My dad loves cooking and lately he's been on a French roll (pun intended), and it's little wonder why. The French do it right. France exudes beauty in all things: in life, love and especially food. Eating is not merely to sate your appetite, it is recreational -- it is art.
And let me tell you, this dish is beautiful! There are so many colors, flavors, and it just warms your heart and stomach. It's the mother of all cooked veggie dishes, a French traditional delight -- ratatouille!
I'll be honest, when my dad first told me about this dish, the first thing that popped into my head was the beloved Disney movie. It stars the lovable rat Remy, who has hopes and dreams of one day becoming a serious chef. (It's a great movie that I totally recommend.)
But as adorably cute as the movie is, let's unveil the real star here in all its glory. This ratatouille is a hearty creation including, but not limited to, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and onions. Often times it's baked and served with cheese too. The key here is to make it your own, and make it our own we did.
I loved making this dish for a few reasons:
1. It's freaking cold outside, so I've gone from light and easy to hot and heavy ... food, people, we're talking about food.
2. This dish is super healthy. There's nothing but veggies and olive oil here. So indulge as much as your heart desires and leave your guilt freezing its ass off in the cold because there's no room for it here.
3. No, like really, it's
healthy. We're talking vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free
egg-free. The whole nine yards.
4. It's filling. For real, a couple servings, and I'm good to go for hours (and so is my dad, who is a man that loves to eat and casually stands at 6 ft. 2 in.).
5. This dish is art. It's beautiful, it's vibrant; it's a colorful collage. I truly believe that the more colors you eat, the more colorful your life. When I eat this, I not only feel nourishment, but I physically see it.
6. Lastly, but most importantly, this was quality time well spent with my dad. I love cooking with him because when we share our ideas, we come up with some pretty incredible dishes (just my opinion, of course).
2 large onions chopped
1 orange pepper chopped
3 handfuls of mushrooms chopped
8 garlic cloves
1 jalapeño pepper chopped
1 large tomato chopped
half a teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of oregano
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 eggplant sliced
2 zucchinis sliced
3 medium tomatoes sliced
Making the sauce
1. Put 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a wok or pan over high heat. Let the wok heat up for 30 seconds, and throw in the chopped onions. Stir occasionally until onions become translucent. They will give off a lot of liquid, which is exactly what we want to create a nice sauce base.
2. Now it's time to throw in the garlic/jalapeño and mix that in.
3. Repeat step 2 one-by-one for the tomatoes, orange pepper, and mushrooms. Stir as you go and watch all the beautiful colors melt and blend together.
4. Season with black pepper and oregano. Let the liquefying mixture simmer for 5 minutes and the sauce is done!
Time for the Main Dish
1. Take out a baking dish. We used a glass one but it really doesn't matter what kind you use as long as it has depth so that we can layer our veggies :). Then pour out a nice layer of sauce.
2. Now the fun part, we will use our sliced eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes and start layering these veggies one on top of another (and watch art come to life).
3. Once all veggies are layered twice, pour the 2
half of the sauce on top, dousing the top layer of veggies entirely.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and allow the dish to bake for an hour.
5. In the meantime, set the table & call the family, because they will not want to miss this glorious dish!
6. Indulge friends!
I'd like to thank my dad for this incredibly simple and healthy recipe. It's really perfect for the whole family and it's sure to make your winter more colorful.
This past week, thousands of University of Missouri alumni, including myself, and especially those of us who write (and there's no shortage of us), have been trying to find the words for what has transpired. How do you respond when the nation's eyes turn to your alma mater -- a place you once called home -- because many of its students don't feel at home there?
I had been largely unaware of what was happening at Mizzou this semester. Thanks to outstanding media coverage (I expect nothing less from Mizzou) including an interactive timeline from the student newspaper, The Maneater, I was able to catch up.
My initial reaction was how powerful to see free speech rally a group of students to put an end to complacency and indifference toward racism. Not an incident of racially-motivated violence, not some heinous act of hate and intimidation, but the Missouri Students Association president writing about a firsthand experience of verbal racism on campus -- and posting it on Facebook.
I thought Mizzou cannot be the only campus where this is happening, and in a way it made me proud that my campus was giving voice to a larger systemic problem across the country. But it still felt terrible to know that the nation was looking at my school as a place where racism is alive and unchecked and that it needed to come down to the football team boycotting team activities and members of university leadership resigning.
When I read that MU System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin had resigned, however, I knew that while necessary, it was not enough. These men are not bigots or racists, and removing them does not change the culture at Mizzou around race. It will not stop people from shouting slurs at black students. MU leadership does need to be more responsive to the needs of all student groups and actively foster an inclusive and respectful environment, but real change is up to the students.
Thinking back on my four years at Mizzou, my freshman year was actually the first time that any sort of racial diversity existed in my life. My roommate was black, and I was friendly with a number of other black students in my dorm, as well as students of other races and backgrounds. It was also the first (and turns out only) time I was "the Jewish kid."
Overall, I felt comfortable and accepted in my dorm and on campus, but I discovered this week that some of the friends I made 10 years ago who are black didn't feel that way -- their Facebook responses reflected on experiencing racism and racial tension during their time at Mizzou.
It was sad to read that, and it begged the question: could I have done something to make their experience better, to make my campus more accepting?
After my freshman year I didn't meet or interact with students of other races. I found a place for myself at Alpha Epsilon Pi, sticking with my Jewish roots, and as part of MU's disproportionately white Greek system, diversity largely faded from my campus experience. I played in my corner of the sandbox and was content there.
I can think of two exceptions. That's it.
During my freshman year, one of my older fraternity brothers invited a few of us to come see the step show. I had no idea what that was. He told us that it was the coolest thing that he'd ever seen at Mizzou and it was free -- we were sold.
Our main auditorium on campus was packed with black students. Each of the black fraternities came out on stage and did a step routine while people shouted and cheered on their friends in the middle of the dancing. In between performances, music blasted from the house speakers and the whole crowd got up and started dancing in the aisles. I'd never seen anything like it: the talent, the spirit, the energy -- it was electric. I had seen a whole part of black collegiate culture that I otherwise would've never known existed.
The second happened a couple years later. Our fraternity organized a highway cleanup with a black fraternity. We didn't all become best friends because of one community service project, but we recognized the importance of bringing two minority groups on campus together and building that campus community connection.
After all the news this week, I'm more proud of those experiences than ever. I am proud of my fraternity and our effort to bring down barriers -- real or perceived -- between cultures. But two experiences? Two efforts? I wish we had done more.
When 18-year-olds go off to college and learn how to live and behave as independent adults, they bring their experiences with them -- and that includes their biases and their prejudices. It is such a fragile transition and any moment can impact how they will see the world forever. That's why what's happening at Mizzou today is such a big deal. Fostering diversity and creating a safe environment on campus is not just a "nice idea," it's a necessity. All students on all campuses deserve to feel they belong and all students should learn, at this stage in their lives, how to be open, accepting and respectful to all people and ideas.
So if there's anything I can add to this national dialogue it's this: When your school isn't doing a good enough job, you have more options than to just protest the leadership. You can create something positive. Seek out a new cultural experience for whatever student organizations you belong to. Attend a different religious service. The times when I did these things, or when a friend came to check out something Jewish I was part of, I remember them. I remember them as much as I remember the fun I had going out to the bars, and I treasure them more. Find your place on campus, but then explore other places.
Colleges and universities need to be places of cultural exploration, where all people can learn from and with one another. That can't happen if some students don't feel welcome, or safe. It's worth protesting over and it's worth fighting for.
Carly and her brothers
My eldest brother recently got married to a beautiful woman whom I'm now fortunate to call my sister-in-law. The Drake Hotel in Chicago was the perfect romantic backdrop for the magical evening celebrated with close friends and family, scrumptious food, delicious drinks and a groovy band.
But, what made this wedding unlike any I've attended is that both a priest and rabbi officiated the wedding ceremony.
My brother, coming from a Jewish household, and his wife, coming from a Catholic one, both wanted to honor and respect their loved ones and came to the decision to have their marriage encompass both faiths. Naturally, I was curious how this would work. I know plenty of people who have married someone of a different faith, but the couples opted for Jewish ceremonies. An interfaith wedding in the truest sense, was new to me -- and the many guests.
But the ceremony was truly exceptional. It began with the wedding party, groom and bride walking through the beautiful Grand Ballroom to the sounds of a band playing contemporary love songs. The elegant floral arrangements of pink and white flowers that aligned the aisle blended exquisitely with the room's golden pillars and turquoise marble walls.
Tears, smiles, and laughter filled the room while Rabbi Ari Moffic and Father Bernie Pietrzak stood under the
(wedding canopy), each taking their turn explaining the wedding customs of Judaism and Catholicism and then leading the guests in prayer.
I also had the privilege of honoring my brother's and his wife's religions during their wedding ceremony. Along with one of my brother's oldest friends, I had the pleasure of signing their
ketubah, or wedding contract, as witnesses. Then, during the ceremony, I read a section from the Book of Sirach, a section of the Catholic Bible, that explains the joys a wife can bring to her husband and home.
After the vows were said and kisses exchanged, the beautiful interfaith ceremony came to an end. During cocktail hour, I had numerous people of different faiths exclaim the warmth they felt during the ceremony. I couldn't have agreed more.
What struck me most about their wedding ceremony is that it blended two religions and symbolized how they now coexist in a union. Now their marriage will have a strong foundation of welcome-ness and respect for the differences that makes us all unique and loved.
In just a few days I'm going to be 40. FORTY. How did that happen?
Whoever said that time flies, wasn't joking around. It feels like I was in high school about half an hour ago and suddenly here I am at an age that sounded light years away.
I have been anxious about 40 since the minute I turned 39 and over the last year I have been through all of the stages of grief. I was depressed, mad, in denial and more than once I have shaken my fists at the sky while begging for time to stop. There were even times where all of that happened at once. I must admit that I have been a mess, but now that the big FOUR-OHH is knocking on my door I think I'm ready.
My most favorite thing about being Jewish is how it calls us to be awake, present and in the NOW. All of life's stages are celebrated, even the ones we aren't excited to see. We are called upon to recognize every new experience as a gift, and are challenged to be full of gratitude. We even have a prayer to keep us mindful and thankful.
is a beautiful prayer, I've been thinking about it a lot lately. If the attitude of gratitude has a king, the
is it. When I'm feeling uncertain and afraid, which honestly is exactly how I'm feeling right now, I like to say it a few times to myself. It reminds me to say thank you.
It's wild that I'm about to be 40. It's also a miracle. I'm lucky. Forty doesn't have to mean anything, right? I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm certainly not planning to slow down, and I feel more centered, focused and sure than I ever have. I may have even reached the point where I love myself -- a lot. I can't wait to see what's next, and I'm thrilled to have finally reached the age where I can throw open my window and yell, "Hey, kids! Get off of my lawn!"
I think it's going to be OK.
Blessed are You, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.
How teaching English in Israel for a month changed my perspective
As I reflect on my TALMA experience, I feel as if an overwhelming amount of change and growth has taken place. There are the superficial, surface changes like living in a different country for a month, getting slightly tanner, gaining new friends and eating large amounts of hummus and pita for four consecutive weeks, but really, it goes beyond that.
There has been such a shift in my perspective. The lenses through which I view both education and "real life" are exponentially different than they were at the end of June.
brings instructional leaders from around the world to teach English to students in low-income communities on the Israeli periphery through an immersion-centered learning environment. And as anyone would guess, Israeli culture inside (and outside) the classroom is quite different.
There are a unique set of challenges accompanied by many successes. It was not, for example, uncommon for my small class of nine students to have multiple screaming matches (with my co-teacher and I as well as each other), kicking wars and crying fits. The door was slammed multiple times per day and silence was quite the rarity -- even when one of us was talking. Describe this situation to me before all this happened and I would have been extremely scared. I would have shaken my head in disbelief, smiling a doubtful smile.
But this is the reality. The students are genuinely sweet. They are real and authentic. They are loud, outspoken, and stand up for what they believe in. Their energy and behavior are like nothing I've ever experienced in a classroom. And you know what's strange? I absolutely
all of this.
I lived for each day inside the classroom. I lived for each challenging moment in which I had no idea what I was supposed to do; for the times that it was absolutely essential that I rely on my patient co-teacher for his ability to speak their language; for the times that I thought to myself about how behaviors like this were not common in our schools; for the moments when I felt completely powerless and didn't know what to do.
The beauty is that each time I found myself in a difficult situation, I did something. I am, in fact, not powerless. I was forced to expand my knowledge, reach for tools I've never used, and rely on help from others to turn a challenging situation into a unique learning experience.
The first day, I was panicking about something. Sahar (my co-teacher, who has become like family) looked at me and said, "It's no problem." When I asked him how he could be so calm, he gave me the best advice I've heard in quite a while: "A problem is something big, like losing a child. Israel has bigger problems than the computer not turning on."
I took a step back and thought about every time I'm stressed about something at my job at home, or panicked about something in my real life. He's right. What seems like a problem actually isn't. It will be okay. Life is going to continue. The students spoke more and more English, and each day ended with a smile.
I'm not sure that describing the change in my perspective as just a shift is accurate, exactly. When I came into this program, I felt extremely nervous (shocker, right?). I did not trust that my teaching experience and education would be enough. While I have learned valuable lessons in best practices for teaching English learners each day, I've also learned that it is absolutely essential to believe in what I bring into the classroom. Each TALMA teacher (Israeli and American) has such a unique skill set that allows him or her to be successful. The proof is in the conversations I've had with others, pictures shared on Facebook and just the overall confidence in the group.
With that being said, one of the most important lessons I've learned is that it is 100 percent okay (and necessary) to ask for help and rely on others. I admit that I haven't always been the best at this both in the school setting and real life. But being in a loud classroom with children yelling a foreign language and looking at you with pure confusion on their sweet faces really is eye-opening. It is a "rip the Band-aid off" learning situation that makes you feel absolutely powerless in a humbling way.
Although I've known it all along, I now believe and live the idea that we cannot do all things alone. Each moment I relied on my amazing co-teacher and principal, students, friends and TALMA administrators. While that may have left me feeling inadequate in the past, I now feel fulfilled.
There has also been such a growth in my instructional strategies, especially with teaching English learners. I've realized the importance of movement breaks, games, gestures, pointing and relevant vocabulary. But the growth has come in my educational philosophy. I've always strived to incorporate authentic learning activities into the curriculum, but that abstract term is now more concrete. These activities do not only have to be learning vocabulary, spelling words or reading.
The times in which I've seen the biggest change in my students is when we've done an activity to build their confidence; the moments when we play at recess and converse in English; and when they get to teach me Hebrew. In the past, authentic still meant directly related to the learning goals, being able to be measured by standards. Now I have seen the value of self-confidence and the socio-emotional aspect. It is such a powerful thing to be able to make a strong connection with children who understand very little of the language you speak.
Life is challenging, that's for sure, but by relying on others, taking each moment for what it is, leaving the past behind, smiling and believing in ourselves and in others -- we'll all make it through.
TALMA, a program sponsored by the Israeli Government, the Schusterman Family Foundation & the Steinhardt Foundation, seeks to enlist more than one hundred instructional leaders from around the world to educate, inspire and lead in an informal, experiential summer learning program for elementary school students in the Israeli periphery. TALMA educators will teach in an English immersion-centered learning environment for students who live in low-income communities. English proficiency is essential for future academic success and developing this skill is critical to unlocking future opportunities.
TALMA is YOUR opportunity to use your summer to grow your leadership network, gain international education experience and have an immersive personal & professional development journey in Israel grounded in an effort to repair the world. The first two summers were an amazing success, and now we want to expand this groundbreaking program and increase our impact with the contributions of MORE highly qualified leaders like you to spearhead the effort.
Still have Questions? Contact us at
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Saturday, December 12, 2015
Featuring HANNIBAL BURESS
Comedy Central star of Broad City and Why? With Hannibal Buress
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8:15 PM - Doors open, wine, beer & snacks at your table
9:00 PM - Program begins
Exciting New After-Party Location!
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Learn more and register here.
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