50 Days: Over and Out

What a ride!

I loved putting this blog together, and love even more that it remains as a resource for those who are looking to bring a variety of voices on Israel into dialogue with each other. I hope it proves useful to others as a teaching tool. More than anything, I am grateful to the folks who contributed, who were willing to put their thoughts and feelings into words and to allow those words to be published.

If you’re interested in checking out the presentation I prepared for my Fellowship on the project, you can find it here:



50DaysofIsrael as an Israel Education tool – Sami Stein Avner

Note from the editor: In preparation to present my blog project at this week’s iCenter iFellows Masters Concentration in Israel Education Seminar (say that 5x fast), I asked a few folks I know have been following along to share the ways in which they have used the blog. A couple of people responded in such well-stated ways that I asked if they would be willing to have me share their words with you all. Here is the first of two responses.

As a Diller Coordinator who just finished hosting Israelis (they left the day before Passover) and mid-planning and preparing to take the Diller Fellows to Israel this summer, I found myself asking the same questions this blog poses: what do these teens need to know when learning about Israel and forming their own deeper personal connection to Israel?

We have created an intentionally pluralistic community within the group of teens I work with, which also includes various experiences with and feelings toward Israel. As a way to get the teens to share their personal sentiments toward Israel, I wanted to introduce them to several people’s perspectives on what Israel means to them. I already had a few excerpts from the book What Israel Means to Me, and added the blog post written by rabbinical student Allie Klein to show them an educator’s perspective. I liked this piece because it touched on the complexity of Israel and the variety of people who live there through a simple concept – sound.

Since then I have engaged one of my junior counselors to write a reflection on Dusty’s blog about Israel from a teen perspective who has seen Israel from a few angles, including staying in the home of an Israeli teen in Tel Aviv. I am excited to see what she has to say as I think it will be an important voice to add to this blog.


Sami Stein Avner is the Program Coordinator for the Los Angeles Diller Teen Fellows Program at the Westside JCC. Prior to running the Diller program, she received an MBA in Nonprofit Management and MA in Jewish Professional Leadership from the Hornstein Program for Jewish Professional Leadership at Brandeis University.

My First Trip to Israel – Karen Klobucher

What is my Israel story? Let’s start with this: I am a Roman Catholic who lives in a Jewish family. What you are about to read are observations from that perspective. The following excerpts come from the journal I kept during my first trip to Israel in 2004.

July 20, 2004 The Flight
The flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was full of Orthodox Jews. It was wonderful to be saying the rosary three feet away from a man saying his morning prayers. Despite all the children on the flight, there was very little crying. The woman sitting next to me visits her daughter and five grand-children every year. Her son-in-law was killed. She doesn’t understand how anyone would want to destroy a country where the people of three religions all live “together”. She had nightmares all night and grabbed my arm from time to time.

July 21, 2004 Tel Aviv
We arrived in Tel Aviv to collect our mighty steed, a tiny white Hyundai. We drove to Nahsholim….a picture perfect resort where we dined on huge buffets of Mediterranean delights and strolled on a moonlit beach until the crescent moon slipped like a sabre slowly into the sea.

July 23, 2004 Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
We went to the shopping mall with Dusty and Tatty [my daughters]. Tatty did look fetching in her new Israeli garb and jewelry. Though we had been warned to stay away from such places, Dusty had been hanging out with some women Israeli soldiers all about her age and was rather nonchalant in her response to my concerns. There were many, many soldiers. However, people just go on “living” here, whether they are relaxing at a resort or shopping like crazy at the mall. It took us a half an hour to find our car in the parking lot. It seems that everyone who shopped that day had a white steed.

Then we drove to Jerusalem. The landscape got hillier and the bushes bushier. After some wandering and twisting, we found Nurit’s house in the German Colony, Emek-Refaim. Nurit is the 80-year-old grandmother of a friend of the girls and she had invited us to Shabbat dinner. We heard the shofar, saw no soldiers, and watched the Orthodox walk to synogogue. Nurit is a walking history book, a small, feisty woman who has lived in Israel her entire life. She has been through all the world and Israeli wars. She spread out a Shabbat feast prepared solely by her – what is better than to be with ones family and a dear new friend over a lovely Shabbat dinner, IN JERUSALEM?

August 3, 2004 Jerusalem
Tim [My husband] and I explored the Old City together, and then I ventured out on my own – I wanted to see the Christian sites. There are so few tourists this year that I had my pick of guides. Sylvia was my personal guide and very knowledgeable. Around 4:00pm, the narrow market place was emptying as it was soon time for the Muslims to pray. The last site was the Stations of the Cross, the fourteenth station being the Holy Sepulchre itself. I entered and was speechless that God had brought me to this day. The bells started ringing loudly. I prayed, lit a candle and asked about the bells. Sylvia said different bells ring for 7 different kinds of Christian churches and each have their own time to process. The bells just then happened to be for the Roman Catholic Franciscans. I felt blessed in this experience. What a high! I felt I was being celebrated by my church on Holy Ground and Sylvia, my Israeli guide, was gracious enough to allow it.


Karen Klobucher is married to Tim Klass, the mother of Dusty and Tatty, a Montessori teacher and drama specialist, and a member of Temple B’Nai Torah and Saint George Parish in Seattle, Washington. She founded a Saint Vincent de Paul Society chapter at St. George in late 2004.


Noting The “We” – Elliott Levitt

   I barely noticed the ‘we’ the first time I heard it.  And yet, over the course of my conversations with Israelis on a trip a few years back, it started to crop up again and again.  “We can’t please everyone” sighed one woman, addressing political pressure from abroad.  “We think it’s the best of our bad options,” said a soldier of the high border security on the West Bank.  Rarely in America do you hear people speak on behalf of their entire nation.  In Israel, I found, it’s instinctive.
   You’ll find the ‘we’ in any place with a small, population—especially one that finds itself regularly under threat of one kind or another.  It’s an unconscious acknowledgement of something Israelis often think but rarely say aloud: whatever our individual beliefs, against a common threat we’re all in this together.
   You might not know it, looking at the country from afar. Read the Jerusalem Post, and it can seem as though no two Israelis agree on anything.  For all the political dissent we have in the U.S., we’ve always been a two party system.  The 535 members of the United States Congress comprise just three political groups; Israel’s Knesset has 120 members, and thirteen parties between them.  And yet, the ‘we’ surfaces there too.
   You’ll hear that Israeli ‘we’ in any number of places—”Why would we need Starbucks when there’s an Aroma in every shopping mall?”—but most often it’s in reference to a problem that must be solved.  It’s not always political issues that prompt the ‘we’ either.  Israel, easy as it is to forget, has a lot of the same troubles as the rest of the world.  “There’s a big problem nowadays with drug use among the teenagers here,” one Israeli told me.  “But we’re working on that.”
Elliott Levitt was born, raised and Jewish Day School-educated in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., but now lives and works in the great city of Los Angeles.  A veteran of trips to Israel, he packed his sunscreen, shorts and T-shirts in preparation for a visit to Jerusalem last year.  It snowed.


Honeyblood – Alana Baum

I’ve got honey in my blood
It churns thick with cinnamon warmth
Through fall and mid spring
Around holiday time

I come from grandparents with honeyblood.
It swirled through
My Bubby’s cookies,
My Zayda’s Yiddish,
Old world kitsch never tasted so good.

I grew up nestled in the footsteps of a
Jewish mother,
And a father
Whose parents left their heritage behind
For an American Dream
Without curly hair. 

They didn’t know
Honey still ran in their blood.

It coursed through
Sweet evenings spent lighting candles,
Asking questions
Always in that order

Growing up, each December
There were eight nights
Of being asked how the lamp stayed lit
But wondering why the candles had to burn out so fast.
Every time.

Traditions unfolded and folded
Like prayer shawls
Draped across the shoulders of balding men
Wearing fabric
Like a story
Calling it sacred

My favorite
The tale of Zusya,
When he died, he thought God would ask him
Why he didn’t act more like Moses or Abraham,
Instead God asked him
Why he didn’t act more like Zusya.

I don’t think these old tales
Are so tall

They glazed my adolescence with a rich
Combination of history and promise

My community always believed in something
Clawed at it with hormonal fingers,
Ran to it with dirt-covered feet,
Encircled it
With breath
And candles
And secrets
And time

Each more precious than the last

As time crept by
I stopped tasting
Honey on my tongue

Old words sounded bitter without it…
In Hebrew it means wrestle with god

For so long,
This mighty metaphor
Propped my faith upabove the others.
A history that wove itself reflexively
But when I finally
Entered the wrestling ring
Flew to Jerusalem on a trip for wide eyed youth
Symbolism was beaten to a pulp by

Why was a land so full of love?
Spilling over with blood?
Why do fights with god
Always result in so many casualties?
How many Palestinians died in the wrestling match?

It hurt to think about…

Cognitive dissonance
(It’s no coincidence
A Jew coined that term.)
A coin split
A land split
That’s when I began to split

A mechitza
Splits the room
Between genders in spaces where worship calls women distractions
Don’t treat me like a distraction
Stop getting distracted from justice
By tradition
I hate Jews that don’t get this
I love Muslims that do.

It’s hard to taste the honey these days,
As I find tradition in yoga
Feel sacred in bed
Look for stories in poetry slams
See promise in a justice so impossibly perfect
That I will spend my whole life seeking it

But even though honey dissolves in hot liquid
And hardens after a few months without use
It’s the only food in the world that never goes bad

And honey will always run in my blood
And I will always be made of my Bubby’s cookies


Alana Baum is a (very) recent graduate of UC Berkeley.  She spent her college years living in co-ops, writing poetry, subverting norms, and growing into her skin—which she is still very much doing.  Alana is unbelievably privileged to have had so many opportunities and curious to discover what she will do with them.​

Changing the Question – Scott Frankel

Hark! Change is in the air! A little more than halfway through the Omer, it seemed it might be nice to throw a third question into the mix – a question prompted by fellow iFellow Scott Frankel:

Scott’s passion for Jewish media and education brought him to Israel for a year after graduating from college. He worked at a film & TV production company in Tel Aviv, where he directed a documentary about global Jewish life called From The Diaspora. This project lead Scott to become a Chicago PresenTense Fellow in 2012, and he now works at the iCenter.

Israel and I: A Story in Three Parts – Nicole Berne

My Egypt was ignorance and apathy. I hated the expectation that a place to which I’d never been was supposed to mean something to me. I didn’t understand why the modern state of Israel was supposed to matter to me, when my family likely hadn’t lived in the land for a millennium or more. History and archaeology, sure, but politics today seemed pretty far removed from any historic connection I may have, plus my schooling had me thoroughly convinced that religion and government should never mix. Surrounded by people with personal connections to Israel, I felt like a stranger, disconnected and distanced from the connections felt by those around me. Their expectations for my Zionism was a heavy burden for me to carry. Moreover, my ignorance made me afraid. I didn’t want to ask questions for fear of sounding stupid, didn’t know what questions to ask, and felt overwhelmed with all there was to learn. I also feared, once I had more knowledge and understanding, that others would view me poorly for my views – and that I would judge people I cared about for their own views. I was paralyzed, frozen in place, hoping that my silence would keep others’ attention off me.

My revelation at Sinai, therefore, consisted of moments when I felt both informed and invested in Israel – moments when Israel was mine too, when I could analyze a political situation or ask insightful questions. Sinai was also in moments of intense self-identity with other Israelis. When the sirens went off one Friday afternoon, and my friends and I huddled in the stairwell with our neighbors, listening intently to the radio and straining to hear the sounds of a far-off explosion. In these moments, Israel was mine – but they were fast and fleeting. Just as Sinai was never the ultimate destination in the children of Israel’s journey, so too my life went on.
So now, I’m wandering in the wilderness. I have memories of slavery and revelation. Neither was comfortable, and, unlike the wanderers in the desert, I don’t know what my promised land looks like. “Flowing with milk and honey” – what does that even mean for life today? Let my promised land flow with the curiosity and critical evaluation of the people who love it. Let the honey be the sweetness of open-mindedness and honest discussion. May my promised land be one of continuous revelation.
Nicole Berne is a third-year MAJE student at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from Indiana University in 2011, majoring in English and history, and spent her first year of graduate school living and learning in Jerusalem. Looking ahead, Nicole is excited to explore opportunities for pursuing social justice through Jewish education both in classwork and through hands-on community engagement.


Take TWO Trips to Israel – Paul Kipnes

What can you see in Israel in just 5 days? Plenty. 5 days were just enough to travel north, south, east and west (yama v’kedma, tzafona v’negba) in search of significant new projects in which to involve my synagogue, Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA). Moreover, these 5 short days provided me with unique insight into the tapestry we call Israel.

So often we see Israel through the eyes of the tourist, visiting Jewish historical sites as well as those marking the rebirth of our Jewish State. Too often, we miss the day-to-day reality of Israel.

This five day trip afforded me the opportunity experience Israel anew by:

Dining with a young Jerusalem family who are trying to build a new future by sending their children to Hand-in-Hand, a mixed Jewish, Muslim, Christian school;

Meandering through vibrant, secular Tel Aviv, enjoying its Shuk HaKarmel (open air market) and partaking in the night life in the cafés and along the Port

Exploring a shmata (clothing) factory in a northern Galilean Druze village which is providing employment and revenue for the struggling village

Visiting an innovative program, teaching Jerusalem Arab youth how to conceive of and open their own small businesses

Meeting in the Kiryah, Israel’s Pentagon, with Ultra-orthodox soldiers who are bucking the trend to enter the Air Force to ensure a viable future for themselves and their families

These poignant experiences were brilliantly arranged by Gideon Herscher, an energetic, visionary Israeli leader in the Joint Distribution Committee. He arranged intense conversations with a passionate Israeli Arab lawyer, a newly freed and self-sufficient woman who had been sex trafficked from Romania, the ever thoughtful author of Start Up Nation Saul Singer, and former Knesset Speaker Avrum Burg. We also enjoyed a private briefing at the Taub Center that opened our eyes to important demographic, education and economic trends in Israel today.

I came away with a renewed sense that Israel – in addition to being a spiritually-exciting, Jewishly-significant, geopolitically-central Promised Land – is also a normal, energetic, multi-cultural modern state.

Everyone should take a minimum of two trips to Israel: the first that tastes all the tourist sights that highlight Israel as the Holy Land, and a second which illuminates the multicultural, exciting, abnormally normal country that underlies and transcends the Holy Land.


Paul Kipnes is the Rabbi of Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, California. He teaches Pastoral Counseling at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, sits on the Clinical Faculty of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, and serves as Rabbinic Dean of URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa. Follow his blog here.

From the Desert to Jerusalem and Back Again – Lily Gottlieb

Many Jews I know who have participated in an organized trip to Israel have recounted that the trip, though fun and unlike any other travel experience, did not feel particularly meaningful until the group reached Jerusalem.

While my inaugural trip to the old city did have a great impact on my thoughts and feelings about Israel and Judaism, my experience in southern Israel had a similar role in fostering my personal connection to the state, its land and its people.


The desert is the complicated site of the historical wandering and settling of many nomadic peoples, representing a great deal of possibility atop mountains of buried struggle.  The energy of the desert resembles that of the city of Jerusalem where three major religions are layered in strata of coexistence and conflict. On my most recent trip to Israel, I sought to examine the connection between the desert and the Old City though photography.

Using a high-speed black and white film in my “old school” medium format analog camera, I shot both sites, looking to capture the mysticism and socio-political significance that each represents for me and my experience of the land and its conflict.  I organized the resulting images into a small book entitled “Dust,” emphasizing the importance of time and the uncovering of the past in understanding and dealing with the realities of the modern state of Israel. 

Jerusalem 2


Lily Gottlieb is a photographer graduating from the California Institute of the Arts this May. She is also an active member of the Los Angeles Jewish community, mostly working with Jewish youth. She will be traveling to Israel as a madricha on a NFTY in Israel trip this summer. 

Sidenote: Israel in the News

About a week ago, JStreet and something called “The Conference” was all over the Jewish American news. “The Conference” referred to The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and JStreet’s tagline reads: “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans”.

In short, Jstreet made a bid to join the Conference and, after a secret vote, was not admitted.

I do not wish to state any personal opinion of my own – in fact, I am not sure I have one, knowing as little as I do about the various organizations involved.

However, I thought it would be remiss of this blog to ignore the kerfuffle, and so I am including here a few (not largely representative, just informative and/or opinionated) articles on the topic for perusal.

Jerusalem Post:
1. Conference of Presidents votes against J Street inclusion
2. J Street disappointed by Conference of Presidents rejection

Forward – JJ Goldberg
Blackballing J Street: Who Voted How

Tablet – Liel Leibovitz
Forget J Street; Should We Accept the Conference of Presidents?