Getting to Know Us….An interview with Rafi Poch

Thanks to volunteer Irv Cantor, we present this third installment of our new “Getting to Know Us” blog series, which began in December with an interview with Executive Director, David London. Watch this space for further articles acquainting you with the many members, employees, volunteers and donors who make AACI the place for English speakers in Israel.

 

Each of us brings our own perspective to any project. An airplane engineer was once asked what he thinks about when he sees a plane he designed flying overhead. His response was, “I think about five million parts flying in close formation.”

 

The same could be said of Rafi Poch’s point of view, as the Artistic Director for AACI’s  J – Town Playhouse theater program, when he thinks about any one of his productions. Delivering a production is a complicated and demanding management effort, coordinating separate streams of activity that must merge on opening night.

We hope this interview with Rafi gives you more insight and greater appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes.

Rafi Poch

 

 

Rafi, thank you for this opportunity to talk with you about the J-Town Playhouse and your work. For starters, can you describe how you came to Israel, and more specifically to AACI?

 

I came to Israel after high school, to go to yeshiva. I decided to stay for a second year, and then I decided to join the army, and then I thought, what the heck, and I made aliyah. I went to Bar Ilan and earned a Master’s in Jewish History, with a minor in Talmud. Nothing to do with theater. But I got bored, and I tried to open an archery club. But that didn’t work, so I tried to start a theater instead. I just thought that every nice, upstanding college should have a theater. So I started a theater at Bar Ilan, run by students and for the students. We paid for everything and did everything, and we had a great time with it. It lasted nine years and was called the Bar Ilan Acting Society. Through that work I started making contacts with other people in the English speaking theater community in Israel, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Raanana.

 

When I graduated, I was offered two jobs, one of which was to be come the Artistic Director of the theater at Merkaz Hamagshimim of Hadassah. I took that position and stayed there for about four years. It was a great space, a great location, working with the English community in Jerusalem. I was developing connections with all of the other theater companies in Jerusalem – there are currently seven – and it was a lot of fun. And then along cam Bernie Madoff’s impact on Hadassah, and they had to close Merkaz Hamagshimim around May in 2011. However, some of the projects created by Merkaz continued. One of them was one I created called Stage 1 English Theater Festival. The purpose was to get the different theater companies together to work together. It was hosted by the Beit Avi Chai cultural center. That project has continued until this past year, and may be taking on a new format.

 

Around that time, AACI was looking for someone to take over as Programming Coordinator, because the existing Coordinator was going on maternity leave. So I took the position for six months, with the understanding that the possibility of a theater company would be discussed at the end of that time period. I put together a proposal, including logistics, budget and so on, and it was accepted. We opened a theater department. The theater is called the J-Town Playhouse, under the auspices of AACI.

 

We focus on things that other theater companies can’t, because we have a specific location. What differentiates us from the other theater companies is that we have a space and an organization that oversees the theater. It allows us to do workshops, classes and one-off events. We can do smaller projects that other theaters cannot do, because they need big shows that sell three hundred tickets a night or else they go financially under. We can do shows that have smaller audiences, that don’t have to be the big, old classics. We can do more engaging ideas, more engaging topics, shows that are more specific to a time or place. And we can do shows that are more confrontational.

 

We have a small stage and can do small musicals. We’ve been doing about one each year. The rest of the time, we do straight plays. Each year we try to do one comedy, one classical, straight play, one Jewish-theme play, one musical, and one other play. Sometimes those categories overlap in one production. At the same time, we have classes on learning acting, learning improv, or other topics related to theater. And we have smaller events, like the 48 Hour Play Project once a year. Once a month we have a concert, and we just started a choir which we hope will continue and expand. We are also starting a new improv troupe.

 

How do you see your role in connection with all of these things going on?

 

The juggler, It takes a lot of energy and logistics and orchestration to make sure everything works. Not just on its own, but that it works with everything else at AACI. AACI is not just theater. There are many other programs and activities going on. The other hat I wear here is Program Coordinator. So I have to make sure the logistics work between the theater and the art show exhibit or the movie nights, for example.

 

I have been to some productions where you actually perform. Is it difficult to work that into your busy schedule?

 

It’s difficult. It’s difficult because my effective role in every performance is that I produce it, which means I am responsible for all of the behind the scenes logistics – getting people to do makeup, getting people to be stage managers, getting people for the box office, getting the budget together, making sure all of the props and costumes are there, all that stuff. At the same time, being in front of the director, having to memorize lines, having to put on the character, having to develop the character, like the other performers, it’s a lot of energy, and it is quite a challenge.

 

Are the other roles – stage manager, director for example – steady and unchanging from production to production? Or do they change? 

 

They change from production to production. We have people who like working with us that we like working with, who come back often. Many of them. We have Eryn London, who is directing her second show for us. We have Aliza Schoffman Land, who has stage managed four or five shows for us. Chani Loeb, who comes back all of the time. We have box office staff who come back again and again.

 

Are the performers the most changeable part of the productions?

 

There are usually three or four projects in production around the city at any one time, having seven theater companies here. So the actors go wherever there is a project of interest to them. We do have a lot of repeat performers, but we also have a lot of turnover. Usually, because of the intensity of how often we do performances, which is also different from most other theaters. Most other theaters work only one at a time, maybe two. We can work on two or three at a time. Because of that, we need a team for each one. An actor who is acting in one show in October will have a very difficult time acting in another show in December. They would have to be in rehearsal performances while the other show is going on. So someone in a production in October will more likely be in a show in January or March. The actors like the atmosphere here, and they like the quality of productions we do here.

 

Each theater has its own niche, its own focus. Some are more focused on wonderful sets and costumes and great music. We are focused on the quality of great acting.


How do you decide which shows to put on?

Most of the shows that happen here are done in-house. Also, there are shows that other theater companies will offer.

They will says they would like to perform a show at our location. These I look at, I judge. I see if the content is appropriate for our audience, if the quality of the production is good enough for our audience. If everything is okay, I take it to the directors of AACI and ask if this is something we want to do. If there are no strong objections, we will usually go with it.

 

That’s external. Internally, part of my job is to decide what shows we want to put on, to look for and find such shows. The main criterion is whether this will go well with our audience. There are other factors, such as content issues – is the content something the actors will enjoy while they are in it. I don’t want to do a show where the actors will be bored half the time. It won’t be challenging to them. I want to do shows that are challenging both to the audience and to the actors. And I want each show to be different than the others. And that’s a challenge. One of the things we don’t do here is we don’t build sets. We’ve done it once or twice, but we really don’t have the space to build or store sets. Personally, I think sets are the accoutrements of theater. I think theater is really about people acting, about people being in front, about people being on stage and walking and talking in front of someone watching. I am not alone in that theory. I am reading a book by a man named Peter Brook who says that exactly. You don’t need lights, you don’t need sound, you don’t need tech. You need actors telling a story. That’s how I decide the plays. If it’s a good story, I’ll do it.


I imagine you do not have a typical work day?

Every day is different. But every project is similar in what needs to happen. To get a production to go, the actors need to learn their lines, there have to be auditions. we need to get the directorial team in order – I’m not mentioning these in the right chronological order – we need to buy the costumes, male the props, create the set if there is one, we need to rehearse, we need to complete planning and cover all of the logistical things. That’s in addition to being responsible for all of the public relations work, the marketing, being the voice for AACI in social media, and doing that all at the same time as running other programs, answering phone calls, and resolving problems.

It sounds very challenging and very complex. Which of your skills contribute most to the success of the program?

The ability to multi-task is really important here. To be able to juggle. Being part of the team here at AACI is great, because other people may have your back and say “You forgot this, but I took are of it.” That will happen often, and I have done it for others. And there are lots and lots of details to take care of. You have to be okay with not taking care of them all today and leaving some for tomorrow. So another skill is patience.

What’s your biggest source of reward for doing all that you do?

 

Knowing that you had a job well done. At the end of the day, the show went off very well, the audience loved it, the cast loved it and had a great time. That’s the biggest sense of reward. Knowing you created a time, a moment, a place where people enjoyed themselves, where they were challenged, where they saw or absorbed something that made want to do it again. It could be a rehearsal, a show, a class, an activity, whatever it happens to be.

In a previous interview I had with David London, I quoted Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live, who said the show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, it goes on because it’s 11:30. Have you every experienced that?

Yes, we have (laughing). I remember an instance last year when we doing Winter’s Tale, and on opening night the show was not ready to go on. And what was worse – and this happens sometimes – I had scheduled it very tightly in terms of other activities, including my own travel.  We decided to cancel the first two shows because it was not ready, and God helped us out with a huge snowstorm those two days. While I was gone, there were rehearsals, and when I returned we had our first show, and it was great.

There are three shows that I would call the most ambitious shows we have ever done. That was one of them. Why? Because I took a classic Shakespeare play and turned it into a musical, on my own. I took music form modern culture and added it where it fit the show. The audience liked it and thought it was cool Shakespeare. The other two shows were Rent, which I did not do here – the content was too raw for Jerusalem – and It’s Not You, Well Maybe It Is, a play which was challenging because I wrote it. It was the first show I had ever written. It was an incredible journey with the show, to see if the audience would like it, to see if it would fit or not fit. It ended up fitting immaculately well. I co-wrote it with Sura Shachnovitz, a person whom I deeply respect. It was a great experience and inspired me to write another show, which I am working on now, which deals with the military.

Are there over-arching challenges that cut across all of the shows?

 

The financial challenges that apply to AACI in general also apply here. The theater runs on its own budget and is judged on its own budget. We have to make enough to survive. Sadly, we don’t always hit those goals. It’s a chicken-and-egg challenge, because that challenge is based on the audiences we get – the theater lives or dies on ticket sales. It’s our main source of income. So we need to do shows that the audience will come and see. But we also need to do shows that the audience doesn’t know. So we have to do those shows in away that the audience will come and see them. We have to market it well, and we have to schedule it well. Scheduling is a big one, because with everything happening at AACI, we still have to schedule the first two shows that we know will not sell well until word of mouth gets around. And we have a break of a few days for word of mouth to do its thing, and then we schedule more shows. Thankfully, we’ve had a series of hits, and we have not had any shows where audiences said they didn’t like it.

In a number of productions I have seen in Israel, both from J-Town and other theaters, I have noticed Jewish content inserted into shows that did not have that content in their original versions. Is that a common practice?

I will answer you in two ways. Around the world, it is done regularly, and may not be Jewish in nature. It’s called playing to your audience. There are other theater companies that do it all the time, maybe even seven or eight times in one performance. I think it’s a little over the top. We do it once or twice, and sometimes the actors decide to do it themselves. We recently did the show The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged, and in that show at a specific point it says make a reference that your audience will get, relevant to your time or place or whatever. So some of the plays will have this opportunity built in. Most of the time, for us, they are not added in, unless the script specifically says so.

One of the things I did in preparing to talk with you was to take some quotes from people in the theater in order to ask  you to react or comment on them. So here is the first, from playwright David Ives, “Ultimately, one has to pity these poor souls who know every secret about writing, directing, designing, producing and acting but are stuck in those miserable day jobs writing reviews. Will somebody help them please?” How do you react to or use reviews?

Reviews really don’t happen here. I wish they would. They don’t happen in Jerusalem. There isn’t a culture of newspaper or web site reviews. Some big cities like New York have that, but not here. A review is done by someone who sees lots and lots of shows and compares the shows in the review. The write ups you see in the Jerusalem Post, for example, are not reviews. Those write ups are both better and worse than reviews. Reviews are written by professionals who know every little detail of what goes on into making a show happen. Write ups are sometimes written by interns who don’t have in-depth knowledge of theater. On the other hand, the intern  will often turn the write up into a personal interest story which increases readership and gives us greater publicity.

Here’s another quote, this time from Jim Henson of Muppet fame, who was in theater: “I was very interested in theater, mostly in stage design. I did a little bit of acting.” Can you talk a little about stage design?

We basically have size or space constraints, and we have budgetary constraints. We will always try to make the stage look different. It might be a completely plain stage, but we will use entrances and exits from both sides, or from the audience, or from curtains. Or it might be theater in the round. We use props, both large and small, to lend a certain feel. But we don’t do a great deal in the stage design aspect. We go for what is called the black box feel, a simple stage where the audience has to use their imagination. Stage design is the tool for getting the audience to feel they are really in that space, and it can be done from two extremes – to design every last detail of the setting, or to present a blank stage and rely on imagination.

Here is a quote from Christopher Meloni, known for his role as the tall detective on Law and Order: “The reason why I hate working in the theater is the tedium of memorization. But once that is done, you feast on this never ending meal. If you play it correctly, every night is fraught with very high stakes that are very difficult to find  in everyday life.” So I was wondering if you could comment on the actors you have worked with.  Do you see changes and growth in them, and how do they handle that kind of tension?

In community theater, you have varied levels of talent on stage. In a show you typically have actors who are all over the spectrum in talent. That’s what it means when you talk about community theater – we’re a community. And there’s something very nice about that. We don’t have performances every night. We have shows a few nights each week for a two or three week run. Broadway actors have to analyze and their nuances from night to night, which is very challenging. Here, an actor gets really comfortable with a role after about two weeks, when the production is almost ended. It’s more an issue of the adrenalin rush on opening night, followed by a letdown in the next performance, due to the lack of adrenalin, and then trying to build yourself back up to the level of opening night as the two or three weeks progress and you become more integrated into the character.

Many actors have really grown and developed through this theater. An interesting fact is that there is no English youth group in Israel. Many of the teenagers have found a community through the theater. About four or five years ago, we started doing one musical each year, for teens and by teens. It’s been a great success. Now the kids hang out with each other on Shabbat or other times. It spans the religious and secular spectra, and it is great.

One last quote, from the famous Stephen Sondheim: “All the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper. That’s what makes theater live. That’s why it persists.” Given that idea, where do you see the program going in the future?

I think that quote applies to everyone in theater, not just the performers. If you don’t bring something of yourself into the job you do, then the result is something stodgy, perhaps with audiences that still come, but not happy audiences. What keeps the theater going, even if you’re not selling tickets, is a new vision, from the level of choosing a show – something new that the audience has not experienced – to the level of the director – finding the characters you see coming off that paper, not necessarily what the author saw. As I grow older and wiser,  I will not have a person who has been both a writer and director do both jobs in a single production. When I wrote my own show, I knew I was not going to be the director. We need more voices. We need the show to be universal and not have too much “me” of one person. The show has to apply to everyone.

You also have to bring new stuff to your theater, to continue to challenge your audience. “You didn’t like that last author? Here’s a new one. Give it a try.”

And with the actors, it’s the same thing. The actor comes in and says, “This is the character on paper, and this is who I am. How do I mesh the two?” The actors who don’t ask that, and who play four or five characters the same way, become very boring to the audience. That’s why you seek a balance of actors who can mesh and those who can’t. Or you bring in an entirely new cast, which is something I’ve done.

I’ve been very focused on doing specific projects and shows. One of my higher level goals is to see this theater become a home for creative people of all types. In about two minutes I have to go down the hall to a brand new children’s acting class. It’s anew thing, and I have high hopes for it. At the same time, I want to challenge audiences with new shows and new ideas. I want new people to join us to create their own challenging projects. One special goal is to have a new show introduced each year, written by someone in the comunity. We are still lacking playwrights. We have here a venue for new playwrights, and I hope to see it become a regular festure. Finally, I would like to see one building in Jerusalem dedicated to English theater. It would be home for the seven theater companies in Israel,  a place where they could come to enhance the English language culture in Jerusalem and all of Israel.

 

Rafi, thank you for this whirlwind interview. You are accomplishing remarkable things through AACI and your theater company. I hope readers are moved to both attend your productions and become active volunteers and participants in your work. 

The earlier interviews in this series can be viewed using these links:

 

https://aaciblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/getting-to-know-us-an-interview-with-donna-grushka/

 

https://aaciblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/getting-to-know-us-an-interview-with-david-london/

 

Chidlren’s Creative Drama Workshop:

 

http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=132#workshop

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel

with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center

Pierre Koenig 37. Corner of Poalei Tzedek (across from the Hadar Mall), Talpiot, Jerusalem.

Buses 10, 21 and 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI.

Buses 71, 72, 74 and 75 stop at Tzomet HaBankim, a ten minute walk away.

Call 02 566 1181 for more information about programs and membership.

 

 

 

 

L’hitraot from the Editor…

This is me!

This is me!

It’s been my privilege to work at AACI for nearly four years, getting to know English-speaking olim and visitors to Israel and helping them whenever possible. Sometimes my “help” was nothing more than a kind word or a few patient moments to connect with another human being. Sometimes I listened to a remembered anecdote. I made many friends among the wonderful people who are my colleagues on staff at the AACI as well as our amazing volunteers and our far-reaching membership. I loved to welcome friends from the “old country” when they arrived here in Israel.

But every now and then, a little voice says it’s time to move on to something different…

While at AACI, word got out that I love technology and that trouble-shooting problems and teaching people solutions is fun for me. So sometimes I went beyond my role as blog editor/social media coordinator (making videos for AACI) or development staff.

People started to ask me for help with:

an iPhone or other phone,

or a Kindle…

or someone’s email wasn’t letting them open an attachment,

or they were trying to use a list that had been created in Microsoft Word but they needed it in Microsoft Excel,

or they had a question and didn’t know how to search to find the answer,

or they needed to know how to view photographs that had been sent to them,

or their camera for their Skype connection wasn’t working and they couldn’t see their Mom, or their children

and on and on and on. Well, you get the picture. I became somewhat of a go-to person for tasks both technical and frustrating (for them).

And I was able to help a lot of people.🙂

I taught an introductory course about facebook. And an introductory class about LinkedIn.

When someone would tell me, “That was so EASY!” it was music to my ears!

These experiences inspired me to start my own business which I am calling My Tech Tutor. My Tech Tutor is a way to reach out to people who don’t think everything is so easy when it comes to technology. Because you see, my Mother, of blessed memory, taught me that, “Everything’s EASY when you know how.”

So that’s my new goal, or so that little voice seems to think. To make it EASY for you. To teach you how. How to get more pleasure and productivity from today’s wonders in technology. To reduce the frustration, and YES! Make it fun. Because I think technology is fun and it is one of my greatest pleasures to share my enthusiasm and wonder and joy with you.

My departure is bittersweet because I have loved my time here with you at AACI, but I won’t be far away. I cherish my membership privileges at the AACI and may even offer a blogpost to you, dear readers, as time goes on. To the new blog editor, I wish you much success and continued growth in readership.

Shalom dear friends, l’hitraot, until we meet again. Please be in touch. You can reach me at techtutoril at gmail.com (My Tech Tutor in Israel).

Bryna Lee, My Tech Tutor Personalized training and assistance with your electronic devices. Empowering you to connect, have more fun, be more productive and efficient. My Tech Tutor – find me on facebook or on my soon to be constructed, brand-new website.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in

Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv,  Beer Sheva and Haifa.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center

Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall)  Talpiot, Jerusalem

MAP

Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.

(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

Getting to Know Us…An Interview with Donna Grushka

Thanks to volunteer, Irv Cantor, we present this second installment of our new “Getting to Know Us” blog series which began in December with an interview with Executive Director, David London. Watch this space for further articles acquainting you with the many members, employees, volunteers and donors who make AACI the place for English-Speakers in Israel.

 

Interview with Donna Grushka Donna at AACI  early 2000's

The world-famous anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The gentle force of her words can be heard in the  recollections and thoughts of Donna Grushka, an AACI volunteer. She has a  unique history with AACI, and we appreciate her taking the time to share her  insights with our blog readers.

Donna, thank you for agreeing to respond to our questions. Let’s start with how you came to AACI.

Let me start before that. In 1976, my husband Eli, who was born in Israel, was teaching chemistry at the State University of NY at Buffalo, when he received an invitation to be a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We were here for nine months and I fell in love with the country, fell in love with being here. We went back to Buffalo, right into the Great Blizzard of 1977, which was a shock after being in Israel for nine months! We returned to Israel in the Spring of 1978. Eli is still teaching at Hebrew University, and is also busy with research and consulting.

I took an intensive ulpan and worked as a research assistant at Hebrew University and elsewhere. In the spring of 1983 I was looking for a new job. I had the idea that I wanted to do something with English-speaking olim, but I didn’t know exactly what. I saw an ad for a temporary job as a counselor at AACI. At the time, I knew very little about AACI.  My husband was an Israeli – if there was something to be done involving forms or procedures, my husband was my “in house” expert. But I responded to the ad, and even though I was not a social worker and had never been a direct service provider, AACI decided to take a chance with me. Luckily, the temporary job became permanent.  I was always grateful for that decision: working at AACI was the job of a lifetime for me!

I was intensively trained, which is important to note. AACI counselors are given in-depth training in order to accumulate the knowledge needed to be effective.

What is your academic background?

I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. But I knew already when I came to Israel that I did not want to work in the politically confrontational field of labor relations in Israel.

Although you’re not a counselor now, do you see a difference between being a counselor now and what you did as a counselor in the 1980’s?

Yes, there’s a definite difference. The organization was larger then, and there were more counselors. I became the third full-time counselor in the Jerusalem office. We were booked several weeks in advance with appointments. There were many new olim coming to the Jerusalem area. In the absorption center in Mevasseret Tzion, we had 50 families from North America. And in Beit Canada in East Talpiot, we also had about 50 singles and couples and young families. We were very busy, and, of course, there was no email or internet.

Visiting the absorption centers to greet olim and to provide counseling services was a very special part of AACI in those days. Volunteers went with the counselors to provide a personal connection. New neighborhoods were opening up, like Har Nof, and parts of Beit Shemesh, and AACI sent counselors to those areas to assist new immigrants.

Today, the counseling staff is much smaller. People have new resources, and sometimes rely on online information. However, when people have questions about their personal situation, they still need the individualized, specific hands-on advice and assistance that can only be provided by a real live person in a one-on-one setting. This is one of the most valuable benefits AACI provides to our members – to make an appointment and see a counselor in our offices (Sheila Bauman in Jerusalem, Miriam Green in the South Branch in Beer Sheva, Yanina Musnikow in the Central Branch in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and the North Branch in Haifa and other locations; and Helen Har Tal for employment counseling.)

None of us had computers in those days. We didn’t even have typewriters. I remember a counselors’ meeting where we were asked what our vision was for AACI. I responded that I had a dream that each counselor would have a computer on their desk. It seemed very far-fetched at the time.

Did your relationships with new olim extend beyond the initial weeks and months?

In many cases they did. People would come back months later, saying that they had accomplished certain goals and now wanted to move on to another set of goals. Education issues with children might not emerge until months later.

How long did you have this role? 

I began as a counselor in April 1983 and continued for about ten years. In 1993, I became the Assistant Director for the Jerusalem branch of AACI. There was a full time Director at the time just for the Jerusalem branch. The National office was separate. We shared the same building in the Talbieh neighborhood, with “downstairs” meaning National, and “upstairs” meaning the Jerusalem branch.

What were your responsibilities?

As Assistant Director, my main focus was on programs. I filled in for the Director when she was not around. I managed the production of the Jerusalem Voice magazine. I dealt with some outside organizations, and worked intensively with the Seniors group, as well as coordinating many of the volunteer activities such as the front desk.

What types of programs was AACI running back then?

We had presentations on the rights of olim, for example. The art class that is given today is a twenty-year-old program. There were music programs in the evenings. The old building was smaller, so we could not run many programs during the day. The Wednesday morning program for seniors (RAPS) is also one that has been in existence for a long time.

One of my most enjoyable activities at that time was working with the seniors. We had a nice garden outside our building. We had an end of season luncheon there every June.

Also, we held large yard sales in the garden area where we could accommodate 70 or 80 sellers and regularly attracted several thousand buyers.

The travel program started in the late 80’s and grew to the significant program that it is today.

For how long were you in this management role and what did you do after leaving?

I was in that role for about four or five years, and then at the end of 1997 I said I had to get out of the “ivory tower”. With some trepidation, I left AACI. I did a bunch of other things. I spent a year working for Birthright, when it was just a dream. It was a very small, modest role, similar to a secretary. The program was just being created, there was no real infrastructure. It was fun to support the dreamers.

After a short time working for Hadassah Women in Israel, I worked with Evie Weidenbaum, who had been the Director of the AACI Jerusalem office while I was at AACI, and who had become a close friend. We set up a small company which provided support services to families with elderly parents or spouses needing care. Then in 2004, I went to work, on a temporary basis that stretched into five years, for the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corporation. My job was to translate their public relations materials from Hebrew into English. I loved that job. The exposure to Jewish history and tradition was so interesting.  And after those five years, I retired.

When did you come back to AACI as a volunteer? How did that occur?

I have been active at AACI as a volunteer for about ten years, doing more and more as the years passed. Currently, I am Co-Chair of the Jerusalem Branch of AACI. Belle Fine-Cohen and I have just begun our second terms as Co-Chairs. We work closely with the AACI staff and other volunteers on programs and what goes on in this building. We sit on the National Board and also focus on cooperation with other organizations.

Towards the end of the ceremonyFor almost ten years, I have also been the Co-Chair of the National Memorial Ceremony that takes place in the Fall. I think that we, as the North American community in Israel, owe a debt of gratitude to our fellow countrymen who have come here and fallen, as members of the IDF or in other positions of service, or as victims of terror. We owe it to them, to remember them, to honor their memory once a year. So I have helped organize the ceremony along with my Co-Chair, Rabbi Jay Karzen.

On a totally different note, for three years I have been in charge of the art gallery shows in our building. It’s been a fun part of my work here, because I love seeing the artwork on the walls around our offices.

Visit our facebook album to view the rest of the photos. This is just a sample.

Visit our facebook album to view the rest of the photos. This is just a sample.

And I must mention the Children & Teen Art Exhibition which has attracted entries from kids around the country – English speakers, Hebrew speakers, and even international students.

I have worked on the amutot, the independent funds associated with AACI. Perhaps you are not aware, but AACI has three independent funds, including one that gives very small scholarships to school children in Jerusalem.

What skills do you think are necessary to be successful in these types of roles?

I think the essential skill is being able to get along with people who are very different from one another, and to be able to convince them to do things that need to be done. As a volunteer, you do not have authority to compel cooperation, so you have to use skills that convince and persuade.

What do you value most about the work you do and what AACI represents?

What I have always felt about AACI, and it is now thirty years that I am associated with the organization, is that we bridge the gaps between individuals. What do I mean by that? I mean that in this organization we have people from almost every part of the spectrum – politically, religiously, or any dimension you can think of. We are a diverse group. AACI looks to what unites us, as English-speakers in Israel. This is aside from all of the good work that we do, the support to olim, and the outreach to the community.

Does anything stand out as particularly rewarding?

This is not my project, so I cannot claim credit for it, but it reflects how special AACI can be. There was a project that Murray Safran z”l began over 20 years ago when there was the large Russian aliyah. He began a tutoring project to match up English speakers with these olim who needed to learn English, mostly for work. It was a huge project, and he did it as a volunteer. He did not have a computer – he had index cards with hundreds of volunteers and hundreds of students. It was a beautiful example of how AACI members reached out to the community.

It is rewarding when things you did many years ago have become the standard way of doing things for many other organizations. For example, AACI initiated a “Yom Aliyah”, bringing representatives from different government offices, from banks, and from the kupot cholim to talk to new olim individually, in one place at one time. Today, other organizations now consider this activity as the default for providing olim with needed information. I remember organizing the first one, when people came to the old building – some representatives even sat outside in the garden.

In the early 90’s we were all searching for ways to reach out to the Ethiopian olim. We invited Ethiopian children from the absorption center to come to a Hannuka party at AACI. We thought perhaps 20 or 30 children would come. Close to 100 excited kids came, many of whom spoke little Hebrew and obviously no English. It was a bit chaotic! But they sat on the floor next to North American olim children – and we lit candles, and sang songs.  I was very proud to be part of AACI that day.

During the Gulf War, when people were staying in their apartments, AACI volunteers living near the office, on their own volition, came in to the office and made phone calls to members who were living alone, to make sure they were okay, if they needed training on their gas masks, if they needed windows sealed with tape, if they needed medications from their kupat cholim, or had other concerns.

Let’s turn to the challenges. What challenges confront AACI as it supports its community of English-speakers in Israel?

I think the biggest challenge is always the financial one. We simply need more money to do all of the good things we want to do.

With the appearance of new organizations over the years that are addressing aliyah and klitah, we need to address our position relative to those organizations and what makes us unique. We need to communicate what we offer that cannot be found elsewhere.

We don’t have a timeline for our services. We don’t walk away when a new oleh has become “settled”. Yet many of our members, after two or three years, when they feel comfortable, let their membership lapse. When we contact them, we try to let them know that there are still many opportunities to work together, and that we understand that Aliyah Never Stops.  Our message is:  “We need you. We need your input. We need your time as a volunteer. We need your financial support.” It is interesting that we hear from members years later, when their circumstances change or they become elderly. The issues surrounding growing old in Israel can be difficult ones. We need to maintain an interested and supportive membership during that gap between growing comfortable in Israel and growing old in Israel.

Another challenge is to grow the number of young people to our organization. The J-Town Playhouse Theater is an effort in that direction. There is tremendous potential for young people to make a major contribution to AACI and support English-Speakers in Israel. And they can have a lot of fun at the same time. We need to develop ideas that will attract more young olim to AACI.

Are there parts of your work and volunteering that you would describe as fun?

I am not sure I am going to answer that question directly, but there is an important point I want to make. I think one of the nicest parts of being at AACI has been the friendships that I have made over the years. Some of these friends are former colleagues, and some are people who were “my” olim when I was a counselor. It is very rewarding – personally – when people say to me “ I remember when you were my aliyah counselor and you helped me settle in Israel”. To have helped people fulfill a dream is a wonderful feeling.

In the last year there were two events that brought together people who have worked for AACI in different eras. One was a birthday party for the former director of klitah and national executive director, Olga Rachmilevitch. A group of about 25 former employees went up to Netanya, where Olga lives, to celebrate. It was a great reunion. Second, AACI recently honored two people who have been working for the organization for 25 years, Carole Kremer and Helen Har Tal. Again, people spanning many years came together in this building to honor them. AACI has been extremely lucky that, despite modest salaries, the people who work at AACI have always been dedicated, caring, serious professionals. It has been a privilege to have known and worked with them.

What about your life outside AACI? Hobbies, interests…can you describe them?

My husband and I have been blessed with three wonderful daughters. One lives in the States and teaches as the University of Virginia. The other two live in Tel Aviv. We have three grandchildren, two of them in the States. Family is very important to us.

My husband and I are antique enthusiasts. We are especially interested in Israeli antiques and Judaica. We have collections of different things, for example old chanukiot. Not the fancy silver ones that came out of Europe, but Israeli ones from the 50’s and 60’s. We have old newspapers, and some framed newspaper stories for particular milestones, like the morning of May 14, 1948 saying the country would be established.

And we love Israeli art. We go to auctions and enjoy them. We don’t buy the big, famous names, but enjoy what we have. We also like going to concerts, theater, and the opera.  One more thing: we love watching sports on television, especially winter sports such as skiing and ice skating, as well as tennis and baseball.

Donna, thank you for taking the time to share your rich history at AACI with our readers, along with your ideas and insights. You should be an inspiration to readers to become part of the AACI family, to be members, to be volunteers, and to sponsor the remarkable work of AACI. Thanks, again.

To our readers, below are links to the services and programs mentioned by Donna during the interview:

Employment Counseling
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=47
Art Class
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=132#marcia
Seniors
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=132#seniors
National Memorial Ceremony
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=298
Art Gallery Shows
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=351

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in

Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv,  Beer Sheva and Haifa.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center

Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall)  Talpiot, Jerusalem

MAP

Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.

(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

 

Retivut? Get Riduvit!

Olim from Western countries get very upset when they find their home in Israel is beset with retivut. Often they are ready to pay any price to a shiputznik who promises to get rid of it. Or if they are renting an apartment, they may do their darnedest to break their lease and move. Are such dramatic reactions necessary? Actually, the answer is a qualified “no.” Retivut is generally not an unsolvable problem. There are a number of ways to prevent and/or clear up this issue.

What is retivut?

Retivut is a Hebrew word that is related to the adjective ratuv, meaning wet. It is sometimes used to describe its evil cousin, mold, which is more correctly called ovesh. However, retivut refers to dampness in walls or ceilings, or beneath the floor tiles, of a property. Signs that it may be present include:

  • Surfaces that are damp to the touch
  • Watermarks or discolored paint
  • Cracked, peeling or bubbling paint and plaster
  • A musty or other unpleasant odor
  • Dripping water
  • Mold or mildewMold

Where does it come from?

Dampness may come from a variety of sources inside or outside your building, such as:

  • A leak from a neighbor’s plumbing or balcony (in this case, the neighbor is responsible for repair)
  • A broken pipe – even a pinhole crack can cause a mini flood when water is rushing through the pipe at high pressure
  • Improper sealing of, or cracks in, your exterior walls which admit rainwater
  • Faultily installed windows causing condensation in cold weather
  • Poor insulation and/or ventilation
  • Other structural problems, such as poorly built windowsills that slant downward toward the window

Leak(1)

Before you buy or rent a home

When you are considering an apartment or house to buy or rent, check carefully for signs of retivut or potential sources of damp, as just described. Do not be shy about inspecting in depth for this serious problem. Concealing retivut from a potential property buyer is illegal in Israel, so it is important to ask the owner explicitly whether there is a retivut problem even if you do not find any indications.

Engineer inspection

When you are planning to buy, you may want to consider having the property inspected by a professional engineer. He or she should use a special device to test for dampness, as well as checking for structural issues. Be aware, however, that there are potential problems with using an engineer.

There have been cases of suspected collusion between engineers and potential sellers, so be sure that you are present every minute if you go ahead with an inspection.

The fact of having had an engineer check the property will tend to work to your disadvantage if retivut is later found in the property and you wish to sue the seller in small claims court for your repair expenses.

Engineers often include in their inspection reports a clause absolving them of any responsibility for problems, whether reported or not.

Preventing moisture build-up

Once you are already living in a house or apartment, there are a number of steps you can take to prevent moisture build-up:

  1. Air out the rooms by opening the windows daily for at least 15 minutes if at all possible.
  2. Install electric vents in high humidity areas such as in bathrooms and over stovetops. You may also use an electric dehumidifier or inexpensive humidity absorption pellets*.
  3. Do not keep the inside of windows covered with furniture or heavy drapes.
  4. Close the trisim (blinds) during heavy rainfalls.
  5. Use humidifiers sparingly.
  6. Wipe condensation off window frame and surrounding areas with old towels.
  7. If you need to line dry laundry indoors, put it in an airy part of your apartment.

condensation

Dealing with mold

If you notice mold forming, photograph or make a sketch of where it appears in case you eventually need to consult a professional to deal with it. Infants and small children, elderly people and anyone suffering from a respiratory problem like allergy or asthma should stay away from the moldy room. Scrub off the mold as soon as possible – before it spreads – with a strong bleach solution. Make sure the area is well ventilated while you are working, and wear rubber gloves, old clothes and preferably a protective face mask. Air the room thoroughly afterwards.

Once the mold is gone, try to track down and eliminate/minimize the source of the problem.

Using a retivut specialist

If the mold returns, you may want to contact a professional in resolving retivut problems. Because such a specialist does not require licensing, choose carefully; ask friends or community e-bulletin boards for “tried and true” recommendations, and stay away from anyone who recommends himself.  If the dampness is coming from outside the building, the professional will probably not be able to proceed until after a few weeks of warm weather have allowed the area to dry out. (As an alternative, if you have determined that the problem stems from inadequate sealing of your home’s exterior walls, at this point you can apply sealant to the outer walls yourself.)

Make sure that your resource person treats the source of the problem and not just the symptoms. Have him sign a contract detailing the exact procedures, materials and deadlines involved, with a guarantee on the job of at least one year (preferably longer) so that you can see how the work holds up next winter.

Good luck! Here’s hoping you stay dry and warm this winter!

I found this at the grocery store and this image is taken from http://goo.gl/tz9J4t

I found this at the grocery store and this image is taken from http://goo.gl/tz9J4t

* The humidity absorption pellets (מילוי סופג לחות ומונע עובש) are found in the cleaning products section of large grocery stores. Sold in a small dark blue cardboard box,  the pellets can be purchased together with a plastic holder (about NIS 26) or in a refill pack (about NIS 12). I have used them successfully to absorb dampness in small enclosed spaces such as in bathrooms or under sinks.

The TOP 50 things that Beer Sheva residents like about Beer Sheva…

Recently seen in the AngloBeerSheba yahoo group and too good not to share!

Special thanks to Sonya Davidson for compiling and distributing the list and to everyone who contributed their opinions!

We asked the community: What are the top things you like about Beer Sheva? Here are some of their answers:

…so proud that AACI’s own Miriam Green made the list at number 6 and our AACI library made the list at number 16 as well.

The TOP 50 things that Beer Sheva residents like about Beer Sheva…

1.   A sense of community, the best community in the country.

2.   Friendly, helpful people

3.   Terrific, closely- knit, supportive Anglo community

4.   The free mixing of people from all shades of Jewish observance

5.   Less expensive housing.

6.   Miriam Green at the AACI

7.    Ben-Gurion University and other excellent colleges.

8.   Extension courses at BGU

9.   Soroka Hospital

10.  The brand new Carasso Science Park situated the beautiful refurbished Ottoman era school for Bedouin children

11.  Art Galleries around town

12.  Our Municipal Zoological Garden

13.  The Air Force Museum – five minutes from Beer Sheva!

14.  The soon-to-opened Abraham’s Well

15.  The Turkish Railway Station with: a one-of-a-kind original # 70414 Engine, Tender, and 2 carriages!

16.  The AACI Library

17.  The Beer Sheva Sinfonietta

18.  The Light Opera Group of the Negev, where there is a place for you on stage.

19.  The Performing Arts Hall (משכן לאומנויות הבמה).

20.  The Cultural Hall (היכל התרבות).

21.  The Youth Center (מרכז הצעירים).

22.  The L&L Goodman Theatre and Acting School of the Negev

23.  World renowned dance companies including a Batsheva School and the Kamea Dance Company

24.  The Beer Sheva Chess club; home to more chess masters per capita than any other chess club in the world, and one of the best chess clubs for children anywhere.

25.  Society for the Preservation of Nature activities for kids

26.  Art Center for kids

27.  Almost no traffic jams

28.  Excellent transportation facilities both within the city and intercity – both buses and trains)

29.  Almost never have trouble finding a place to park

30.  Great weather!

31.   Seeing camels, sheep and goats on the way to work. Especially little baby camels, in the spring.

32.   Beautiful water fountains everywhere, sprouting like mushrooms

33.   Drier Air than in the Center, less humidity

34.   Close to dramatic desert scenery

35.   A growing Metropolitan area

36.   All government services available

37.   Numerous well-tended, green parks.

38.   The Fountain Park, where children can play and run in the water.

39.   Great shopping: BIG, One Plaza, 7 Avenue, the new Grand Canyon, mom and pop places, and strip malls.

40.   Wonderful Vegetable Market

41.   Beer Sheva is just the right size. Big enough to have theatres and shopping malls and sports facilities, but small enough to be able to get across town easily.

42.   Beer Sheva provides all of the services of a large metropolitan city, but the people haven’t lost their small town attitude.  You can still know all your neighbors, and if your kids act up, someone is going to tell you🙂

43.  Less frantic and crowded than Tel Aviv or Jerusalem

44.  Everything is accessible; all shopping needs, all medical needs, and all educational needs all within a maximum of 30 minutes

45.  Our Mayor works diligently to make sure that Beer Sheva’s 30 year goals will be reached.  Yes, there is a 30-year plan for the city (even the National Government doesn’t have that…)

46.  Some of the best shawarma in Israel

47.  Good Rail and Bus connections to Ben-Gurion Airport (including all night), Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

48.   Beer Sheva is expected to be the next Silicon Valley for Israel, with many hi-tech companies migrating South.

49.   Our unique archaeological dig under the newly renovated Central Bus Station

50.   Maafiyat Reshonim bakery – a Beer Sheva based bakery that gives any other Israeli bakery – including Ne’eman and Angel – a run for their money!

——————————————

We welcome you to be in touch with our Southern Branch office in Beer Sheva:

Miriam Green, Southern Branch Counselor AACI–Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel

Matnas Yud-Aleph, 11 Mordechai Namir St., Beer Sheva

click here for map

tel: 08-643-3953 mgreen@aaci.org.il

Subscribe to the AACI Beer Sheva newsletter

—————————–

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in

Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center

Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem

MAP of Jerusalem Location

Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.

(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

Getting to Know Us … An Interview with David London

David London at opening of AACI-Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center – March 2010

by Irv Cantor, Volunteer

What is management all about? Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live, summarized it well when he said, “The show does not go on because it’s ready. The show goes on because it’s 11:30.” Management makes sure commitments are met, expectations fulfilled. For David London, the commitment is not just on a brochure, it is in his heart. The following is a summary of an interview with David, in his office on November 25, 2013.

David, thank you for agreeing to this interview and for letting us give our blog readers a chance to get better acquainted with you.

For starters, how did you come to AACI? What were you doing beforehand?

I made aliyah with my family in 1991. Before then, I was the director for Young Judea in the southeastern United States. In those days, there was no such thing as having a job in Israel before you made aliyah, and people didn’t commute for work overseas while in Israel. My aliyah shaliach said you take the first job you can take, because they don’t really think you are here until you have a job. We moved to a merkaz klitah (absorption center), and in those days, there were barely pay phones, cell phones, and certainly no email.

Was aliyah something you and your wife had been thinking about for a while?

My wife and I had each spent our freshman year of college in Israel on separate programs. We did not know each other then, but we both loved Israel and wanted to come back.

When we eventually made aliyah, I went to ulpan, and my class was made up of all Ethiopians and me. So if I missed class, it was kind of obvious. I needed a job, a simple eight-to-four type of job. I saw a job advertised for AACI, the lowest level job, a kind of “gofer”. They liked my background and they hired me. I found a wonderful home at AACI, but to be honest, I could not afford to work there. I was offered a job at USY (United Synagogue Youth) to work for just six weeks in the summer. The pay was excellent and included a free plane ticket to America. So I approached AACI about leaving, and they proposed finding a replacement for the six week absence, but continuing at AACI for the rest of the time. And we were able to work that out. For the next two years I was given different coordinator roles. I used to joke that every time I wanted to leave they would promote me.

After some time, I became the National Program Coordinator. When AACI eliminated that position, I became the AACI Director in Haifa. Although we had a number of wonderful friends there, it was too city-ish for us and our kids. And that feeling also made us think about my leaving AACI. We moved to Beit Shemesh. When the Director positions in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem opened up, I decided to take the Tel Aviv position and was there for a number of years. Subsequently, I took on a co-administrator position for the entire organization in the National Office in Jerusalem.

In 1999, the Israeli economy was not doing well, and AACI was informed of a large cut in funding from the Jewish Agency. The high tech sector was doing well; I was offered a position at Intel, and I took it. They were specifically looking for people with no technical background. The idea was to bring in new thinking, to break out of the merubah (square) thinking typical of engineers. There were 14 of us, and we went through a six-month university-type training before being put in administrative positions. As good as the position and compensation were, I quickly realized it was not for me. I am a Zionist in my blood, in my DNA. I like helping the Jewish world. I was unhappy, but stayed there because of the poor economy, and I did some volunteering at AACI. Until one day in 2001, when I got a call from AACI about the Director position in Jerusalem. They thought I would not be interested, but I was very interested. I later became the Executive Director.

Let’s turn to something more current and more specific. Can you describe what a typical day is like for you?

A typical day for me usually starts in the office at 7:30. I boot up my computer and try to take advantage of that quiet time to plow through my email.

You know, in a global volunteer organization, you don’t work from eight to four. If you’re up at two in the morning, you will very likely find someone else immediately responding to your email or sending you messages.

My schedule is often filled with meetings, but I need to find time to do other work as well. Often meetings start the discussion about an issue, but it is the follow up work that resolves the matter. Most staff arrives around eight. Around 8:30 our front desk volunteers come in. They are lovely people, some of whom have been with us for over ten years. I always like to go out and say hello to the front desk volunteers.

A normal day ends around six.

Do you travel much? 

Executive Director of AACI

Executive Director of AACI

There are two levels – I try to visit the main branches at Netanya, Beer Sheva and Tel Aviv, but I would like to spend more time there. We can do much on the phone or by email, but it doesn’t replace being there.

I travel on some of the AACI tours. We are very proud of the AACI Kosher & Fun Travel program that we have developed. The program serves as a gateway to acquiring new members. Very often people come on the trip knowing little about AACI, but they make friends, have a great time, and learn about us on the trip and end up using our counseling services and enjoying our other programs after the trip.

I think there’s a different mentality when you are an Israeli or when Israel is in the center of your heart which people often say to me. Very often English speakers from the US, Britain Australia etc. join an AACI trip and see the power of this kind of mindset, that we’re all very proud about being Jewish and Israeli. That it is in our DNA; that it is not just going on a trip, it is going on a Zionistic trip. We don’t go around waving an Israeli flag, but we are proud of who we are, we have made a decision. And it is also wonderful because we are a heterogeneous group with various levels of religious observance. What ties us together is that we want to have a carefree travel experience with English-speakers as leaders, companions, and tour guides.

More generally, AACI is an excellent meeting ground for the religious and the secular and everything in between to come together. And I like that. Focusing on what we have in common is amazing. In Israel, where so much is categorized and separated, our goal is to bring people together and to look at a person as a human being.

What skill sets do you have that you value the most for your effectiveness in your job?

I strive to make meaningful connections with people. In my job, I have to talk to different people about different ongoing issues, I have to plan programs and sometimes accompany them. I think the modern world requires multi-tasking and this is one of my strengths.

Was there a specific event or experience over the last few months that was especially rewarding?

I’ve held many positions at AACI, but the one position I never held, and the one I really wanted to have, was to be an Aliyah and Klitah counselor. To have the opportunity to help someone who is going through a difficult period; that is what it is all about. Everything we are doing to help with klitah (absorption) and help olim feel at home is well and good, but to help with a specific problem “hands-on” is truly rewarding and something I do not get to do too often. Every now and then I get to help an individual, and when that happens, I cannot tell you how good I feel.

Is there any part of the job you would describe as fun?

It’s fun for me when I see projects or events come together successfully. When I participate on a trip, when the trip ends and people had a good time, then I can look back on the trip as having been fun. During the trip, before the event, the work is very hard. But when we achieve the success, then all the work transforms to having been fun.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The toughest part is the financial end. We are blessed to have access to an amazing amount of ingenuity, talent and hard work both from our staff and our fabulous volunteers. But ultimately, it takes money to keep the doors open and to continue to meet the needs of our members. It is always hard to ask for donations, but that is something we must continue to do, every day.

It is a very difficult financial world; it is hard to get donations. I am not always good at it, and it is a challenge to ask for personal donations, solicitations, trying to figure out what will inspire a person to involve themselves with AACI and open their wallet so that our programs continue to serve everyone because we care about everyone. We don’t run campaigns for specific causes or groups, which sometimes seem more attractive to sponsors. Our goals and programs are important to thousands of English speakers every day, and we have to deliver a strong message that will compel people to act.

Can you describe the mission of AACI, in just a few words?

AACI represents the interests of English-speakers in Israel, with a tremendous responsibility of representing our entire community, and being many things to many people. We are part of this great mission of bringing all Jews home to Israel. And we know that aliyah never stops! It’s not just about making aliyah; it is about making Israel our home! And that requires the ongoing support and friendship that AACI is famous for providing. It is crucial to help olim during those initial weeks, months and years, and yet still be here when circumstances change. Help, information and friendship can still be needed years later.

You said before that funding is one of your biggest challenges. How is AACI funded?

At one time we used to receive a million dollars from the Jewish Agency. Now we receive nothing from the Agency. We have a budget of about $1.2 or $1.3 million. We are not a large non-profit. We receive about ten percent of our income from donations. We receive about 50 percent from all of our programs, including our travel program. The rest comes from advertising and some special programs.

Let’s turn 180 degrees and get personal. What are your hobbies?

London family photo

I’ve always loved cars. I own only one car now, but I used to do some repairs on cars and love reading about them. It’s a tough topic for living in Israel – I have not owned a new car since making aliyah.

To be honest, I don’t have time to invest in a serious hobby. I have four children, the oldest was recently married. The oldest is 23 and the youngest 14. My involvement with my family is non-stop. What I really need to do is join a gym.

Let’s consider the path you did not take. If you could go back to school now, what would you study?

My wife says I am a frustrated social worker. I love boxing, and when I was young I did some amateur boxing. But I was too slow to go far with that. And I do not have a good voice, so being a rock and roll star was not a possibility (laughing).

I would like to turn from the past and look to the future. What broad goals do you have for AACI? What is your vision, five years from now, ten years?

We provide service to the English-speaking community, and I think we can be much more. The medical area is a whole area that we can address. I am very proud of taking on the Shira Pransky Project whose purpose is to provide information, at this stage; to translate all materials related to medical services. We have the potential to do much more than medical services, but we are focusing on that first because, we would all agree, people should not misunderstand their rights in such a critical area. The project is going to translate all information currently in Hebrew. Our community often does not know its rights. Even Israelis, who know Hebrew fluently, often do not know their rights and benefits. So a web site has been developed called Kol zchut (Rights) that has that information, all in one place.

I would like to return to the issue of a very divided Israel. Unfortunately, it even penetrates into chesed organizations that do not want to help people who are not like the people in the organization. By having a platform at AACI that services everyone, it enables people to come together. When I was working with Young Judea in the United States, we always talked about the idea of doogma eesheet (personal example). We wanted to set the example of people pushing together toward a common goal.

Let me give you an amazing example. AACI had a trip to Russia around the time when the changes in that country were coming to a close. There was no Chabad or kosher food in those days. People could bring their own food, eat the provided food or eat vegetarian. I was Director of the Jerusalem branch at the time that several of these trips took place. The Board received a complaint from a group of members threatening to resign because AACI was sponsoring non-kosher trips. The Board took a vote that demonstrated the compassion and empathy that we had for each other. All non-Orthodox Board members voted to cancel the trip. All Orthodox Board members voted to have the trip. I was sitting there in amazement. I was so impressed with the mutual respect shown and the ability to think and feel outside the usual boxed-in categories.

Glassman center frontage 270 tallLast question: What do you want your AACI legacy to be?

When I leave I want to be remembered for making AACI an interesting place and a welcoming place that accepts everyone. I will be proud of having brought us back from a financial crisis to a position of greater strength. Finally, the move from our old Jerusalem facility to our new one here, filled with bustling activity, has been a significant improvement. All of these things were done with the assistance of remarkable workers and volunteers. They turned visions into realities, and I am confident we will continue on this path in the future.

David, thank you for your time and for sharing so much with the AACI membership and all of our readers.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in

Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel AvivBeer Sheva and Haifa.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center
Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

Sugihara and the Jews: A Chanukah Story

Thanks again to Jack Cohen of the Netanya Branch. You can read Jack’s blog here.

This event took place on Sunday, December 1, 2013 in Netanya.

Sunday I saw a movie entitled “Conspiracy of Kindness” at the AACI about Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during WWII.  The movie was shown by Naftali Bet-Ram, a retired professor from Touro College, New York, who provided some commentary.

Although Japan became an ally of Nazi Germany in the Axis powers during WWII, nevertheless they refused to introduce anti-Semitic laws in Japan and treated the Jews who came under their control with respect.  It should be noted that the Japanese Government had a positive view of the Jews for one main reason.  When they wanted to go to war with Russia in 1902 they could not find any banker to finance their plans, except for Jacob Schiff of New York, who loaned them m$200, which was a huge sum.  When the surprised Japanese envoy asked him why he gave them the loan Schiff replied, “as a banker I should not give you this loan, but as a Jew I must give it to you,” and then he wished them luck in defeating the Russians, which they did in the Russo-Japan war of 1904.  In the 1930s a serious proposal had been floated called “the Fugu Plan” that Jews who were being forced to flee Europe should be settled in Manchuoko, the name given to the Japanese-puppet colony of Manchuria that Japan had captured from China.  But, the American Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise rejected this proposal before the anti-Jewish atrocities in Europe became known and by then it was too late.

Chiune Sugihara had become a Japanese diplomat and had learnt Russian and German.  He was instrumental in buying the Manchurian railway from the Russians and was involved in learning the plans of the Russians prior to WWII.  In other words he was a diplomatic spy, and he was then sent to the Japanese Embassy in Berlin.  From there he was sent to the Embassy in Helsinki, and then he set up a consular office in Kaunas, Lithuania, which was closer to the Russian border.  Then Lithuania was invaded by the Russians and  they ordered all foreign Embassies to close.  During this period thousands of Polish Jews fled to Lithuania from the advancing German Army.  They brought with them tales of the atrocities carried out against the Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.

One day Sugihara was in a store in Kaunas when a young Jewish boy named Solly Ganor came in.  He asked his aunt who owned the store for money to go to a movie, and she demurred.  Sugihara then offered the boy the money, but he refused it, saying that he could not accept money from strangers.  Sugihara told him to consider him an uncle.  Whereupon the boy said, if you are my uncle you must come to our Chanukkah party.  So Sugihara went to the family Chanukkah Party with his wife and children, and learnt about Jewish customs.  There Sugihara also learnt about the anti-Jewish atrocities being commited by the Germans in Poland and reported them to his Foreign Ministry.  Miraculously his correspondence  with the Ministry survived the American bombing of Tokyo, when most of the Japanese Government archives were destroyed.

Quite coincidentally, a Dutch Jewish couple who had fled from Poland to Lithuania asked the nearest Dutch Embassy if they could receive a visa for the Dutch Caribbean colony of Curacao, since due to the war it was impossible to return to Holland.  They were told that no visa was necessary for Curacao.  They asked the Ambassador if he would write this in their passports and he complied.  Soon they returned and asked for him to do the same for 30 of their Polish friends, and he did so.  Eventually thousands of Jews, finding no escape from Lithuania simply wrote in their passports “no visa needed for Curacao” and used this as a destination visa from Lithuania.  But, to leave Lithuania they needed two other visas, an exit visa from the Russians (who occupied Lithuania at this point) and a transit visa thru another country.

The Dutch couple approached Sugihara who worked out of his house in Kaunas as the offical Japanese Consul in Lithuania, from where he had spied on the Russians and the Germans.  They asked him for a transit visa thru Japan and he gave them one.  Soon his office was besieged by hundreds of Jews seeking similar visas.  He cabled the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo for approval to give out transit visas, but was refused.  He was refused three times, but nevertheless he started to give out visas to these desperate Jews seeking any haven, and in fact ended up giving 2,120 visas, according to the list of names that he subsequently submitted to the Ministry.  Note that because he had no staff, making out these visas by hand was a herculean task.

The Rabbi of the Mir Yeshiva, whose 300 teachers and pupils had escaped from Poland to Lithuania, came to Sugihara and asked him for transit visas, and he agreed.  But, in order to do the work the Mir Yeshiva Rabbi and a German volunteer worked together with him day and night.   However, this is not the total of visas he gave out, even when he had closed the Consulate he continued to give out visas, even at the railway station and even on the train.  In addition, noone knows how many visas were copied and forged.  Yet the Russians gave everyone (except Lithuanian citizens) exit visas from Lithuania, as long as they could buy a ticket on the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostock and the Japanese authorities honored all the visas, even those that were obvious forgeries.

In this way thousands of Jews manged to escape the Holocaust.  Solly Ganor, who was Lithuanian, was not allowed to leave, and when the Germans captured Lithuania and the Russians withdrew, he saw the ferocity with which the Lithuanians themselves massacred Jews in the streets.  He was sent with 30,000 other Jews to a Ghetto in Kaunas.  From there some 10,000 Jews were taken out one day and murdered.  Many of them were shot and many were thrown alive into the huge pit in the Ninth Fort, a remnant of the medieval fortifications around Kaunas. Altogether 30,000 Jews were murdered there.

Solly was lucky to remain in the Ghetto and was on a forced death march when he lost conscousness and awoke to find all the Germans soldiers gone.  Then he was rescued coincidentally by soldiers of the all-Japanese American unit, the 442 regiment.

Sugihara remained in Europe after the war, but when he was ordered back to Japan he was forced to resign his post at the Foreign Ministry due to his disobeying of orders and was stripped of his pension and was officially disgraced.  He did odd jobs until he returned to Moscow working in the import-export business.  After 16 years living there in obscurity he returned to Japan.  He was sought out by Jews who he had saved and was given the award of Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in Israel in 1985.  He was only recognized as a hero by the Japanese Government after that and all his pension amounts were repaid to his family after his death in 1986.  When he was asked why he did it, he seemed not to understand the question and then replied “but anyone would have done it.”  He refused all attempts to glorify his name and to receive rewards.  Now there are monuments to him in Kaunas and his hometown of Kamakura in Japan.

Of those Jews he saved, many were shipped out of Japan to Shanghai during the war, but none were killed.  Some were given visas to Australia and New Zealand and other countries before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America entered the war.  None of the Jews went to Curacao.  About half of the Jews eventually made their way to Israel where they and their descendents live today. One of those he saved, Zerah Warhaftig, who was a Zionist leader in Poland, later became a Minister in the Israeli Government and a founder of Bar Ilan University.   It is estimated that today there are ca. 40,000 descendents of the Jews Sugihara saved.