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.

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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.

 

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.

Turkey and Beans; thanks for what we have

Operation Pillar of Defense did more than force southern Israel to cancel school. It also forced the Southern Branch of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) – for which I volunteer – to cancel its annual Thanksgiving Dinner. For the past couple of years, AACI has joined up with Beer Sova – a local soup kitchen serving hundreds of Beer Sheva’s needy – to cook up a Thanksgiving meal that just about any American can be proud of. Being Canadian, it’s all lost on me, but it’s good fun, and the money raised is split between the two organizations.

This year, however, Thanksgiving landed right at the end of the week of bombs, and we had to postpone the dinner.

It was important to us to postpone and not to cancel because Beer Sova served meals to record amounts of people during the week of the war. They served the elderly who couldn’t leave their homes. They served people who lost income because of lost business, or closed businesses. They served children and mothers, Arabs and Jews. All who needed were given hot, nutritious meals, no questions asked.
AACI members were also disappointed at the postponement, and hoped we would have the dinner later. It seems people miss a taste of the old country, especially when it comes to turkey with all the trimmings.

After the war, we settled on a new date, which was last night. Several volunteers came to the kitchen of Beer Sova to prepare a three-course meal of soup, turkey and dessert.

Situated in an old run-down building in the town center, Beer Sova’s kitchen hosts industrial size ovens, stoves, and fridges. You can bathe a pony in one of their pots. (It’s even possible that someone had.) Clean and well-kept, the kitchen’s appearance clearly shows the hard work that goes on there regularly, almost entirely by volunteers, to feed and serve between 70-100 people daily in their dining room, and several 100 or so by home delivery. It also clearly shows how much they need donations to continue their holy work.

I got to the kitchen to help with the cooking a bit late. I used, as I always do, my daughter as an excuse for being late, but really, I just hate cooking. The kitchen was already a beehive of activity. I stood a minute and watched five wonderful women rush around the rooms looking, for all the world, like five whirlwinds that the Tasmanian devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoon makes (but without the grouchiness). ZOOM chop. ZOOM chop chop chop. ZOOM splash. MORE SALT! I NEED SOME SUGAR! ZOOM.

Tasmanian Devil

Within four hours these women (and one man who expertly checked and washed five lettuces [lettuci?] – but didn’t go rushing around) boiled up a witch’s cauldron of pumpkin soup, stuffed and cooked 6 turkeys, broiled 10 kilo of potatoes, made two gargantuan sweet potato pies, mixed up three humongous pots of three different salads, boiled up some cranberry sauce and apple compote, and baked four sets of brownies. I, meanwhile, stirred some beans. Expertly, I might add. I even added a bit of garlic.

Beans

Just over 40 people met later at the dining room of Beer Sova, which is separate from the kitchen. It was really a lovely dinner, complete with music and wine. Seeing as how I was an expert in bean stirring, I also decided I would give a short speech thanking people.
Here’s a copy – with illustrations, something those at the dinner didn’t get.

“Welcome everyone to our AACI/Beer Sova Thanksgiving dinner.

Beer Sova was established in 1999 by a group volunteers, to supply hot, nutritious, healthy meals for the needy in Beer Sheva and the surrounding area, and it was the first and remains the only kitchen preparing freshly cooked meals daily.

AACI encourages Aliyah of Americans and Canadians and assists its members to be absorbed into Israeli society and participate in the life of the Country.
AACI accepts everyone regardless of their religion or political opinions.
AACI is an a-political, a-religious organization.

But I’m not.

Last year at the AACI Thanksgiving dinner, someone told me that the Canadian Thanksgiving was actually established before the American Thanksgiving. I didn’t even know that there was a Canadian Thanksgiving, so I looked it up.

Indeed, Martin Frobisher established Thanksgiving in 1578 after returning safely home to Newfoundland after failing to find the Northwestern Passage through Canada to the Pacific Ocean.

Sir Martin Frobisher

The American Thanksgiving celebrates having survived a winter and near-starvation, but were able to produce a bountiful harvest and, therefore, show thanks with a big meal with lots of food – 43 years after Martin Frobisher gave thanks – in 1621. The Canadian Thanksgiving is one of homecoming and no food is actually involved; which is why the Canadian Thanksgiving has been more or less forgotten.

An American Thanksgiving

However, the Jewish Thanksgiving goes back even further than 1578. And it was from them that both the Canadians and Americans got the idea. And, as most things Jewish, it involves food.

A Jewish meal

During the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a person who survived a potentially dangerous situation – which in those days meant crossing the desert or sea, imprisonment, or illness – brought a Sacrificial Offering of Thanksgiving (korban todah) to the Temple, to show gratitude to G-d for saving him.

This sacrifice was different than others in that it had to be eaten by the person giving it on the same day. There was a great deal of food involved: The animal sacrificed – either a bull, a calf, a ram, a sheep, or a goat (each according to his ability) – 30 loaves of unleavened bread – a kind of matzah – and 10 loaves of regular bread – or challot.

This was a tremendous amount of food that had to be eaten in a very limited time. The person, therefore, would invite lots of people to come with him to eat of the sacrifice. The rabbis say that in this way the miracle of the person’s survival was publicized, his or her gratitude to G-d was made known to all, and G-d’s compassion and mercy was publicly proclaimed.

Today, we don’t have a Temple, or sacrifices. So instead, today, when we survive a potentially dangerous situation, we make a ‘seudat Hodaya’ a Meal of Thanks, where we invite a lot of people, and eat a lot of food.
In addition, say the sages it is right to give tzdaka – charity – in the amount of cost of the animal to be sacrificed – or in the amount of a meal.

And that is what we are doing here tonight – however inadvertently. We are gathered here in a group to give thanks for the things that we have. We have all donated money tonight to two organizations, AACI and Beer Sova.

We have a great deal to be thankful for tonight; our friends and family; a wonderful supportive community, for which I am grateful every day; a beautiful Land in which we have been blessed to make our home and which is populated by more heroes than I can count; the IAF and the IDF, and most of all G-d, for nudging those missiles just a bit and having most of them land in open areas. 176 missiles over the skies of Beer Sheva and there were no fatalities. This is a great miracle that needs to be acknowledged and publicized over and over again.

In addition, I would like to thank those that, with the help of G-d, organized this wonderful evening; the volunteers that cooked and set up; the go-between for AACI and Beer Sova, those at Beer Sova, especially those who helped with all the shopping, and most of all thanks to two superladies who planned and prepared the event from soup to nuts – except that there aren’t any nuts, but there’s cake.”

(names have been left out to protect those who only stirred the beans.)

It appeared that everyone had a good time and came out stuffed to the gills. We raised a small amount of money for both organizations – not nearly enough, but it’s a start.

The best part of the evening, however, was that the Canadian bean stirrer won the raffle – a stuffed turkey.

Now I don’t have to cook much for Shabbat. There’s something to be thankful for!!

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.

Exotic Jewish Communities – Part 1 – Yemenite Jews

Thanks to guest poster, Jack Cohen from the Netanya branch of AACI. This is from his blog, Isblog.

This lecture series with Gabriella Licsko continues in Netanya with Exotic Jewry:  Communities and Lost Tribes on Nov 3, Nov 17 and Dec 8.

Call 09-8330950 or visit http://www.netanyaaaci.org.il/PDF_files/Lecture%20Series%20-Exotic%20Jewry%202013.pdf

Scroll down for information and details about upcoming lecture series in November, “Let’s Surf on the Map!” and in December, “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors” at the AACI – Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center in Jerusalem.

http://www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2013_10_01_archive.html – FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2013

Yemenites

We went to the first of a series of lectures on “Exotic Jewish communities” given by Gabriella Licsko at Netanya AACI. Gabriella is a Hungarian Jewish immigrant to Israel who specializes in Jewish cultural phenomena. She gave a series of lectures last year on the various Orthodox Jewish sects in Israel, which were so popular that we invited her back. The current series started with a description of the Yemenite Jewish Community, that includes not only the true Yemenites, but also the Habbani and Adeni communities.

The Yemeni Jews are a very ancient and separate grouping, not included under the Ashkenazi (Yiddish) or Sephardi (Spanish) main Jewish rites. They developed largely in isolation and their distinct attribute was to largely follow the teachings of the Rambam (Moses Maimonides), who came from Cordova, Spain and resided in Cairo (1168-1204). He wrote a famous letter to the Yemeni community, in answer to the question, if a Jew is threatened by death unless he converts to Islam, should he choose to convert or accept death? He wrote that it is preferable to convert, because first one can secretly continue to believe and practice Judaism (as many conversos did in Spain) and second there may come a time when the forced convert can revert back to his original path (as the Rambam once did). He also advised that conversion to Islam was preferable to conversion to Christianity, because Islam is determinedly monotheistic while Christianity requires belief in a “trinity.”

The reason the Yemenite Jews would ask such a question is because they lived under a terribly oppressive Muslim regime. Although they had developed a strong community during the pre-Muslim period, once Islam arrived in Yemen they were very badly treated. It was common for Jews to be abused in broad daylight on the street and Jewish women stayed mainly in their houses and only went out dressed as Muslims. But, many Jewish communities experienced harsh treatment, what made the Yemenite experience worse was the co-called “Orphan decree.” Under this, if any Jewish child was orphaned then they were automatically required to be converted to Islam. To avoid this fate many children were either betrothed and/or married at very young ages, something for which the Yemenite community is known, but the origin of this custom is not well known.

The Yemenites wore characteristic oriental-style clothes, the men with long peyot and were not allowed to wear turbans or wear swords or any protective weapons or ride horses, only donkeys. The women wore black clothes with a pointed cape on their head. They were not allowed to be farmers or engage in agriculture, so they became silversmiths, pot- and earthen-ware makers and shop-keepers. Ironically when they arrived in Israel in large numbers in the 1950s they were channeled by the Israeli authorities into agriculture. Because of their persecution the Yemenites developed Zionism independently and started arriving in Palestine in the 1880’s. The area of Tel Aviv called Keren Hateymanim became a Yemenite enclave, and later many settled in Rosh Ha’ayin, and Rehovot and vicinity. They were famously brought to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50 when many of them had never seen an airplane before. There are estimated to be now ca. 350,000 Yemenite Jewish descendants in Israel.

Yemenite Jews en route to Israel from Aden, Yemen - from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Magic_Carpet_(Yemen)

Yemenite Jews en route to Israel from Aden, Yemen – from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Magic_Carpet_(Yemen)

The Yemenites were not homogeneous, they divided into at least three major religious groups, there was a group who were influenced by Sephardic rites and mysticism called Shami, and those who were not influenced in this way were called Baladi (from the Arabic for “home country”). The offshoot of the Baladi were the Rambamistim and the Dordaim both of whom advocated a more “rational” version of Judaism and mostly rejected Sephardi mysticiswm.

A distinct smaller group from the area of Yemen called Habban are the Habbani Jews, who although nominally Yemenite Jews, were quite different. Many years ago they developed a military tradition, and wore their hair long, wore turbans, rode horses and were much feared by the local Arab tribes, who tended to avoid them. They were called “wild Indians” by the Israelis who rescued them. By contrast to most Yemenite Jews who were not strongly builtt, the Habbanis were tall and muscular. However, there were only several thousand of them, and they settled together in Moshav Bareket near Ben Gurion airport and became wealthy, since they owned the land on which Airport City was built.

Finally, the Adeni Jews were also quite distinct, due mainly to the fact that the British conquered Aden in 1839 and treated the Jews there very well, recognizing that they were loyal to the British Crown and were excellent traders, just what the port city needed. Although they descended from the same Jews as the Yemenites, they did not consider themselves Yemenite Jews and greatly intermarried with Iraqi and Indian Jews. They spoke English, were quite wealthy, adopted British dress and customs (including afternoon tea) and even before the Brithish withdrew from Aden in 1963 they mostly went to Stamford Hill, London, although there is a small group living in Israel in Tel Aviv. The persistence of these groups of formerly Diaspora Jews in Israel is a testimony to the strength of ethnic customs and practices.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities. She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program. Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

UPCOMING LECTURE SERIES WITH SCHOLAR GABRIELLA LICSKO IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER

November:  Let’s Surf on the Map!

Join us for a new series about the Land of Israel, about the geography and society:  get to know the amazing geographic, social and cultural diversity of this Land, explore holy cities and the secular ones

 When:

Wednesday, November 6th at 14:00

The four holy cities: Hebron, Jerusalem, Tzfat and Tveria; past, present and future.

Wednesday, November 13th at 14:00

”If you want to be a mayor, go and build for yourself a city” Meir Dizengoff. Tel-Aviv and the center of Israel

Wednesday, November 20th at 14:00

“The South and the North will rise again! But how and when?”

Wednesday, November 27th at 15:30

Yehuda and Shomron and a crash course on Kibbutzim, Moshavim, Yishuvim, development towns and planned cities.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

_______________________________________________________________

December:  “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors”

Get to know more about the capital of the State of Israel.  Learn about the neighborhoods, both old and new, their history and society, the culture and population of different areas, the famous residents, institutions, schools and synagogues, social and demographical changes, real estate prices and new projects in town.

When: 

Wednesday, December 4th at 14:00

The OldCity, Yemin Moshe-Miskenot Sheananim, Musrara, Kfar David.

 Wednesday, December 11th at 14:00

Meah Shearim: Learn how a relatively modern religious neighborhood established by Polish and Lithuanian Jews in 1874, turned to be the symbol of extreme ultra-orthodoxy and anti-Zionism.

Wednesday, December 18th at 14:00

The most popular areas and neighborhoods in the city and the “Anglo colonies”

Wednesday, December 25th at 14:00

Lesser known and less central neighborhoods, their population changes and potentials, and Jerusalem real estate in the past and now.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

 Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

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
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.

Geveret Bubbly Meets a Suspicious Olah

“You’re too _____________ (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH “American/Canadian/uptight/awkward in Israeli society/etc.).” This is a phrase that pushes insecurity buttons for many Anglos. Whether we came to Israel temporarily or on aliyah, in the process we’ve often left behind loved ones, homes and professions, and most of us try very hard to fit in to this bubbling multi-flavored stew of a society. Yet sometimes it doesn’t hurt to hang on to a little Anglo reserve … especially because we’re dealing with an unfamiliar culture and language.

canada_us_israel_flag

A few months ago, I answered my door to a smiling Israeli woman whom I had never met. She greeted me effusively.

“Shalom, motek! I just bought the apartment in this building!”

Well, I knew that there was a place for sale and assumed that’s what she was talking about.

“So tell me,” she continued with a warm smile, “are you an owner or a tenant?”

Wanting to get off on the right foot with this new neighbor-to-be, I answered her civilly. But her subsequent question made me uneasy: “How many people living here own their apartments and how many rent?” followed up with “How much did you pay for your apartment?”

I started to hem and haw. She was bypassing my comfort zone in a big way. However, she wasn’t discouraged and blithely went on to say, “I just want to see how other people in the building have fixed up their apartments” – as she attempted to walk over the threshold and into my home.

Time for a good old fashioned Canadian hockey style body check. Call me uptight, but I have a strict rule: I don’t let anyone into my apartment unless I know their name or business, preferably both.

“Sorry, but no,” I told the woman who was acting as if she was my long-lost best friend.

“But I already looked at your apartment when you had it for sale!” she protested. That really activated the warning bells in my head – I have never put my place on the market since I moved in. Still, she could have been mistaken, I thought. After all, these apartments all look alike.

So I used my all-purpose (true) excuse. “I have to get back to work. Kol tuv,” I said, as I gently closed the door.

pladelet_417

Yes, I felt rude, wrong and guilty about my North American style suspiciousness at the time. Quite a few months have passed since then, though, with no further sign of Geveret Bubbly. The apartment she claimed to have bought is still standing empty. And I’m feeling a whole lot better about hanging on to that little part of me that is still too … well, you know.

 

Editor’s note:  Do you have an Israeli Army story — or other personal story of life in Israel — that you would like to share with us? We are always interested in stories that will inform, uplift and inspire our readers. Of course, we reserve the sole right to publish or not, and to edit before publishing. Please submit your story, preferably including (non-copyright) photos as well, to bjacobson@aaci.org.ilLooking forward to hearing from you!

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
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.

Off the Beaten Track

Welcome to our newest guest blogger, Dena Frenkel, an olah chadasha living in Beer Sheva. A version of this post originally appeared in a recent edition of The English Update. As always, the content of this blog represents the opinion of the author and does not represent AACI opinion or policy.

My husband and I made aliyah at the end of November 2012. Unlike most olim from the United States who head for Jerusalem, Ramat Beit Shemesh or Efrat, we moved to the south, to Beer Sheva. I am sure you are thinking the same question everyone asks us (including people who live in Beer Sheva): “Why Beer Sheva?”

For me, there were several compelling reasons to come here. The first and probably strongest reason was Avraham Avinu (Abraham, our father). He is my personal hero, and he made his home primarily here, setting the tone of the place by his presence. Even today, the general atmosphere here in Beer Sheva is one of helpfulness and hospitality. The whole town exemplifies the spirit of its founder, Avraham Avinu.

Second, although it’s located in a desert, Beer Sheva has natural underground water – hence its name which translates as “Seven Wells.” It’s not a total desert here, more like the edge of the desert. There really is a lot of vegetation throughout the town. In fact, the mayor of Beer Sheva, who everyone seems to adore, only gets one criticism and that is he has planted so much and put in so many water fountains to beautify the place that there has been a creeping up of humidity over the last few years. (More about the weather below).

My husband’s children and most of our grandchildren live in Israel and we had been planning to make aliyah for several years. Our children live in the center of Israel which is where my husband would have preferred us to go, but I wouldn’t want to live in the center of the country. I find it crowded with too many people and too many cars and crazy drivers, and it feels to me so polarized between different groups. I feel happier and more spiritually connected when I am in the north or in the south.

We actually spent quite a bit of time in the north looking at possibilities but never found a community we thought we could live in. Also, the weather was not good for me – in the summer, yes, but the winter is damp and rainy and I am very sensitive to being cold. And, since I had always had a fantasy about Beer Sheva, we decided to have a look.

My Decision Process

We came over a period of two years, meeting people, looking at housing, and getting a feel for the place before we made aliyah last year. Beer Sheva had much of what we needed to begin our life in Israel– a group of observant English speakers who live in the same neighborhood, a great medical system, good climate, and the lifestyle was that of a small city, lower key and more laid back.

I lived for 12 years in Oregon before moving to the Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore. Baltimore is a small town/city itself and the frum (religiously observant) section is a very livable piece of that. So I wanted to move somewhere similar with less population, more physical space, and not crammed full of only apartments.

Another consideration for me is that my daughter and grandson are joining us from the States, G-d willing, this summer. She has serious chronic pain issues so Beersheva with its excellent medical care and its dry moderate climate was a good fit.

Getting Around

For those of you who have not been to Beer Sheva recently or never have been, it is a great town to live in logistically. It is relatively small so most places are conveniently close by foot or by bus. (We don’t yet have a car). The city is almost all flat which makes walking very easy and comfortable.

The efficient bus system makes it possible to get practically anywhere you need to go. And we have the train down here so you can get to Ben Gurion airport or Tel Aviv in just one hour without even changing trains. The train is really wonderful and now goes from Beer Sheva all the way up to Nahariya. However, if you want to go to Jerusalem, the bus is probably your best bet with buses leaving every half hour and taking one hour and forty-five minutes. The train has a long stopover in Lod so the trip takes close to two and a half hours.

In fact, the public transportation system everywhere in the country is one of the perks of living in Israel. I am a pensioneret (female retiree), and it’s half price for me. That means a city bus ride costs me two shekels and going to the Merkaz, including the airport by bus or train, is 15 shekels. Is there a better bargain than that anywhere?

Beer Sheva is the capital of the Negev and a hub of public services, including Misrad Hapanim (Ministry of the Interior), Misrad HaKlita (Ministry of Absorption), the area’s government agencies, and also ulpan (Hebrew language instruction) services. I did not realize that at first, and thought it was odd that we were in the line at the municipality and kept getting asked if we lived in Beer Sheva. I thought to myself: Why would I be standing in line if I didn’t live here? But then I realized people have to come here from Netivot and Arad and all around the south. I can walk/bus there so I realized just how lucky and convenient services were for us.

Medical Services

A big factor in our coming to Beer Sheva was the medical system. In my opinion, affordable national health coverage is a big plus to living anywhere in Israel compared to the U.S. Consider the following cost comparision. Health insurance for both of us here with the best supplemental policies will cost us about NIS 550 per month, plus some co-pays. That is $150-$200 per month, depending on the exchange rate. In the States my husband’s job offered him retiree health benefits for both of us that would cost $1000 per month with $2500 deductible, plus it only covered 80% of the cost. That means we would have to pay $14,500 a year before they paid anything.

Beer Sheva has excellent doctors and facilities with Ben Gurion University Medical School and Soroka Hospital and an alternative medicine college as well. My husband belongs to Clalit (one of the 4 medical insurance services available to Israelis) which is affiliated with the medical school and Soroka. I joined Maccabi (another one of the 4 medical insurance services) because an English-speaking doctor who was highly recommended to me was a part of that system. So far, we are both very happy with the service we are getting and the quality of doctors we have seen. One drawback is that the forms or signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, or Russian, but not English. That is a problem I might not have living in a strong English-speaking community in the center of the country.

Israeli Health Insurance Associations Logos

Israeli Health Insurance Associations Logos; Maccabi, Leumit, Clalit, Meuchedet

Most religiously observant English speakers in Beer Sheva live either in Shchuna (neighborhood) Hey or Tet which are very close to each other separated by a small highway. We live in Tet for now, but just bought a place in Hey. Both Hey and Tet are centrally located so that the municipality, Old City, and the shuk for shopping are all about 15 minutes by bus or 30 minutes by foot.

Settling In

I don’t want to sugarcoat the process of making a major move like this because it is very hard to do – anywhere in Israel. It is probably harder in a place like Beer Sheva which is actually in Israel and not in an English enclave that happens to be in Israel. Luckily for me, it turns out that I like Israelis. They like kids and seem to have a real quality of life where family is of central importance.

A phenomenon in Israel compared to the U.S. is that even people who don’t seem religious usually have a strong sense of tradition and a basis of knowledge about being a Jew. And, the English-speaking community here is very nice. This does not mean everyone is already my new best friend because that does not happen overnight anywhere new, but people are genuinely helpful and welcoming which makes a big difference.

Housing in Tet and Hey includes apartments interspersed with cottages (two floors) and patios (one floor) and attached housing. Many of the cottages and patios are in Misholim which are clusters of houses bordered by roads but with pedestrian walkways inside. If you have been to Nachalot in Jerusalem, you have an idea of what I mean. They are very pleasant and quiet with respite from traffic noise. Also the Mercaz Klitah (Absorption Center) for new immigrants is in Hey.

The cost of housing in Beer Sheva has gone up a lot over the past years (as everywhere in Israel) but is still affordable compared to the center of the country. Apartments, depending upon which shchuna they are in, can run from NIS 400,000 to NIS 550,000, with houses running from NIS 600,000 and up. In Shchuna Hey, garden space is more limited as most people have expanded their homes at the expense of the garden, but still you have something of a garden. Housing averages 85-120 meters, not including the garden.

This is a big adjustment for me coming from Baltimore where I had a large house with a huge yard of about half an acre and a gorgeous garden which I planted myself. On the other hand, if we moved to Jerusalem, we would be looking at small apartments with a lot less space that cost a lot more than we paid here.

Am Yisrael Echad

Beer Sheva itself is a mixed community which I think contributes to its sense of harmonious living. There are all different kinds of people here, religious and not, Sephardic and not, Russians and Ethiopians, all walking around sharing space in peace.

I attend ulpan which has also made a big difference in easing my transition to living in Israel. I am in the pensioner’s ulpan which meets three days a week for three hours each time for 10 months, as compared with ulpan for younger folks which is five hours a day, five days a week for five months. I am the only American in my class but there are five other English speakers, a couple from Brazil, a couple from England, and a man from France. The rest are from Russia, the Ukraine, and Belorussia. My friends at ulpan are beside themselves with joy at living in Israel and especially living in Beer Sheva. I can see that they are going to be very good citizens with much dedication and appreciation for their adopted country.

Ulpan has given me heartfelt relationships with other people as we experience the same language and cultural hurdles. I love being there and come home feeling happy and cared about and I think everyone in the class feels the same way. Thank you, Israeli government.

Subscribe at http://ktzat-ivrit.ulpan.com/ (offered by Ulpan La-Inyan at AACI locations around the country

Subscribe at http://ktzat-ivrit.ulpan.com/ (offered by Ulpan La-Inyan at AACI locations around the country

The Biggest Challenge We Are Working On

Eating in Beer Sheva is difficult as we keep a stricter (kashrut) standard than Rabbanut. The idea that keeping kosher in Israel is a trillion times harder than in America really bothers me. We can’t go out to eat much here in Beer Sheva and finding a hechsher (symbol identifying who is certifying that the item is kosher) for meat and chicken is a challenge. Fruits and vegetables also require closer scrutiny. Fruit is more of an issue due to orla (prohibition from eating the fruit of a tree during the first three years), but we are managing. It just requires planning. Compared to the benefits of living here, the hassle of finding produce seems small to me. And the longer we are here, the more we discover shops for produce that is okay.

Adapting to life in Beer Sheva has been harder for my husband. First, he is not in ulpan since he would need an advanced level class which they don’t have, so he does not have the opportunity as I do to make heartfelt connections with other immigrants. Also, he is still looking for a kehilla (community) where he feels comfortable davening (praying) and learning. This is the biggest problem facing us here and it is not a small one.

It seems that Beer Sheva actually has hundreds of shuls (synagogues), but most are Sephardic with the majority being Moroccan. My husband found that he likes the davening in a Moroccan shul but he feels the language and cultural barrier interfere with real connection and friendships. On the other hand, most of the shuls where you find English-speakers are Mizrachi (Religious Zionist) and Young Israel (synagogue-based Orthodox Jewish organization) and he finds the davening does not suit him either. He has found a chassidic (branch of Orthodox Judiasm) shul down in the Old City where he likes the davening, but it’s a 20 minute walk, so right now he only goes on Shabbat (Sabbath).

This is a serious issue for him because he spends a lot of time each day in shul and he expects to find connection there on a personal level as well. Some of that is probably just being in a new place after living 20 plus years in a community where he had time to develop very deep friendships.

I might add that another drawback to living in a place like Beer Sheva is the fact that there are virtually no shiurim (lectures/classes) in English. Now I am personally a bit of a recluse and I need quality of life over access to English shiurim, but I can see that it could be an issue for another kind of person. Even I feel the lack when I read notices of shiurim being offered in Jerusalem.

AACI runs the largest English library in the whole country in Beer Sheva which is a big plus for me. Granted it’s not like the library I left behind in Baltimore, but having access to any kind of English reading material on a regular basis is a huge help.

AACI Beer Sheva

Weather

I have to admit the winter was shockingly cold to me this year. I actually gave away my warmest clothes before coming, on the assumption that we’d have warm weather all year long. During the winter months, it’s mostly very pleasant during the in the 50s to 60s F, but it cools off considerably at night. Like everywhere in Israel, houses lack insulation and good windows, and it’s cold. But by mid-February, the weather starts getting nice, and in the spring and fall the weather is fantastic.

Even when it gets hot during the day, it’s dry heat which means houses stay cool, sitting or walking in shade is cooler, and at night it cools off to the 50s F in the spring/fall and the 60s F mostly in the summer. So far we had a couple of heat waves but we just used fans, closing up the house during the hot part of the day and opening it back up during the evening. Mornings here are very comfortable and it really starts to cool off by about 4:30 p.m. when a nice wind comes up. What I was told by long-time residents was that I should stay indoors during the afternoon when it’s really hot.

Beer Sheva and Beyond

As I mentioned, we don’t yet have a car so we have not done a lot of exploring in the areas outside Beer Sheva. However, on previous trips we went to Mitzpe Ramon which is an hour south, and it is well worth the trip. Also my friend lives in Midrasha Ben Gurion where the BGU (Ben Gurion University) has an environmental studies campus, and it is right next to a wonderful nature reserve that we hiked in a few times. It has breathtaking views like looking at the Grand Canyon where it seems more like a photograph than a real place. Beer Sheva is also about an hour away from Massada, the Dead Sea, and Ein Gedi which is my favorite area in the whole country.

This is my personal view of life in Beer Sheva, and I hope it gave you a sense of the city. For those of you who are looking for somewhere besides the usual places to settle, it’s worth checking out as an affordable alternative. You might just fall in love with it like I did. I would be happy to answer any questions if you would like to leave a comment below.

A version of this post originally appeared in The English Update and can be viewed by clicking here.

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
tel: 08-643-3953
mgreen@aaci.org.il

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For more information about the Southern Branch in Beer Sheva click here.

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