The Blog

In Search of the Tribal Fire

[su_intro]This past week I participated in a five day camping / hiking dialogue seminar in the Northern Negev.[/su_intro]

Hillel created the program, Tribal Fire, in an attempt to encourage Jews in the Diaspora and Jews in Israel to exchange perceptions about their Jewish identities. It was a an invigorating and emotional journey, spending five days in nature together sitting around the campfire and discussing our beliefs and very personal experiences. I never thought that I could create such a close bond with the Israelis I met in this short amount of time. The connection between us was immediately apparent , which allowed for some serious discussions and exchanges of opinions, thoughts and beliefs.

Over the course of our five-day experience we hiked during the day, camped in the freezing cold desert under the stars (huddling 7 people together in a small tent), spent a beautiful Shabbat in nature, slept in the sun, played guitar and introduced Israelis to American s’mores around a bonfire (which they loved). Personally, (because of a bad ankle the last day) I had the amazing opportunity to explore Be’er Sheva and Netivot with a local and learned through her experiences what life is like in Southern Israel. The final destination for the group was in Sderot, a small city on the border of Gaza that has been the victim of many rocket attacks.

As for Judaism… I had never thought much about my Jewish Identity before coming to Israel. After spending four months living here however, I have developed a greater sense of what Judaism means to me. We won’t get into all that right now, but the point is that it never even crossed my mind that Israeli Jews have a completely different way of relating to their Jewish identity then I do.

For me it was tough to express my Jewish identity growing up.

In America, it is not so “cool” to be Jewish. People would say to me things like “wow I didn’t know you were Jewish…” I would reply with “well I’m not really that Jewish…” or something along those lines. In hindsight, I am a little embarrassed about that fact that I felt the need to keep my identity hidden, not only from my peers, but also from myself. The reality for me though is that it is not quite so easy to be Jewish because in the Diaspora, as we always represent the minority.

The Israeli’s that I have become close with during our trip had a different connection with their Jewish identities. In Israel, it is easy to be Jewish because the environment in Israel is predominately Jewish. There is less worry about things like intermarriage and anti-Semitism. However, I observed that there is a struggle of identity between being Jewish and being Israeli. The two coincide with one another to become one single identity. Israeli’s don’t understand the struggle of Jews in the Diaspora because they have never been subjected to an environment where you have to go out of your way to be Jewish.

For Jews in the Diaspora, it is important to go to Israel to really experience the historical homeland of the Jewish people. Visiting Israel allowed me to become more in touch with my own Jewish identity. However, it is almost equally as important for Israeli’s to spend some time in Jewish communities in the Diaspora so that they can experience the separation and the struggle to practice Judaism in a society that is not constructed around it. This experience can lead to the understanding of the difference between Jewish identity and Israeli identity.

Jewish identity is different for every person. Whether you identify with the cultural, moral or spiritual aspects of Judaism, I believe that your Jewish identity is about finding whatever works for you. But in order to continuously grow as a person, you need to ask the right questions and search for the right answers. The most important thing is to have dialogue with others who don’t think like you. There is no way to expand your own identity without listening to and trying to understand the perspectives of others.

Sharing Israel’s story is the first step

[su_intro]There are countless reasons to love Israel.[/su_intro]

Maybe you’re intrigued by Israeli innovations and discoveries, from 3D printing to medical technology that gives sight to the blind (OrCam). Maybe you rock out to haDag Nachash and other Israeli bands or have a house full of Israeli paintings. Maybe you feel safer in a world that has a Jewish state, whether or not you live in it yourself.

I know that for me, the best part about Israel is its track record on human rights. The Economist’s Democracy Index, which examined 167 countries in 2012, ranked Israel as the 37th most democratic country in the world, below mostly European countries and (not surprisingly) well above every other country in the Middle East, the next most democratic being Turkey at rank 88. Israel is also the only country in all of Asia (including the Middle East) to recognize same-sex marriages and unions (same-sex couples can gain many of the same rights as officially married couples through unregistered cohabitation, and same-sex marriages conducted abroad are recognized by the Israeli government).

But whatever the reason that you think Israel is so great, it’s important that you share it with the world!

A lot of people want to help Israel, but the question is “how?” Social media is the ideal vehicle for supporting Israel; it’s fast, free, and far-reaching. Here are a few simple ways that you can utilize social media to have an impact. It only takes five minutes to make a difference!

If you have…

1 minute: Like and share someone else’s story! It takes almost no time at all to spread the word about an Israel story that’s already out there. You can find such stories on the Brand of Milk and Honey (BOMAH) website , on pro-Israel Facebook pages, and elsewhere. Helping to spread someone else’s content can be almost as valuable as creating your own.

5 minutes: Craft a good Facebook status that states concisely what you love about Israel! Try to keep it short and upbeat. Any of the topics that I mentioned above (and many others!) will help paint a positive picture of the Jewish state. Your status will be enhanced by a photograph/video that supports your point or captures a personal Israel experience. If you’re having trouble thinking of something to say, try starting with “I love Israel because…” or “Only in Israel…” If you experience any anti-Israel backlash from other Facebook users, you can contact me at for help devising an effective counterargument.

1 hour: Blog about your story! Write a few hundred words about an experience that you’ve had with or in Israel. Stress that there is more to Israel than conflict, that the country has a vibrant culture and people making the Jewish state more interesting and relatable to your readers. Make sure to talk about the ways in which Israel is similar to your home country, so that the reader can relate, but also talk about the ways in which Israel is special and unique. You don’t even need your own blog, because you can submit a story through BOMAH here!

1 day: Start an online campaign! Circulate an online petition or Facebook page, which can say something as simple as “I support Israel” but can also delve into specific reasons for supporting Israel (ranging, again, from scientific advances to human rights) or the US-Israel relationship (from military cooperation to shared values). It is often especially useful to obtain the signatures of relevant and influential people, like local politicians or the presidents of the Student Democrats and Student Republicans on campus, and to mention their support in advertising the campaign.

Whatever it is that makes the Jewish state so meaningful to you, use your passion to do something about it. Don’t just love Israel; actively work to support Israel!

A Song of Ice and Fire

[su_intro]I am not sure what led me to make the decision to move to Israel except for the feeling that it would be now or never.[/su_intro]

For my 5 month internship with BOMAH– The Brand of Milk and Honey on Career Israel it is my job is to collect stories from people who have a connection with Israel. Whether they are recent Birthright or Masa program participants, olim (new immigrants) or local Israelis, it is my task to collect their stories and publish them for the world to see. Now it is my turn to share my experience. Since most of the stories I gather take place from within Israel, it is time to talk about some place different. In this blog I will talk about my experience leaving Israel and traveling to Prague.

My trip to Prague with the Jeff Seidel Foundation was an amazing three-day trip. I went with a group of 40 people from Israel (Career Israel, other MASA participants and a few Israelis).

I have always wanted to see Prague, mostly because I’ve heard from friends about the cheap beer. But spending Shabbat there and learning about the history of Jews in the Czech Republic made Prague something entirely different from what I had imagined.

We immediately covered the typical tourist attractions; the Prague Castle, John Lennon Wall, Charles Bridge, Clock Tower and a boat ride down the Vltava River. I enjoyed just walking around the city, eating kielbasa, drinking hot wine and cheap beer. Looking at the beautiful buildings, visiting museums, breathing in the crisp air, and admiring the luxuriousness of Prague. With the snow falling, the medieval buildings, and the Prague Castle looming in the background, it felt like I was in an episode of Game of Thrones.

We stayed at the Caruso hotel, two doors down from the Chabad in Prague, which was very convenient for Shabbat. It was the first Shabbat that I spent outside of Israel since my arrival in August. I never truly considered the connection between Shabbat and the Jewish people around the world, until my experience in Prague. Here we were, davening with the local congregation in a city with a historical track record of persecution against the Jews. It was from this experience that, for the first time, I really started to comprehend the strength and the resilience of the Jewish people of the Diaspora.

I never knew how strange and mystical the Jewish history was in the Czech Republic. With Rabbi Ezra Amichai leading the way, we explored the old Jewish ghetto, visiting multiple synagogues and the old Jewish cemetery. We learned about the history of the Jews in Prague, about the reorganization and deportation of Jews during the Holocaust, and listened to the legend of the Golem. What really struck home was the Pinkas synagogue, an old place of worship turned into a memorial for 80,000 Czech and Moravian Jewish victims of the Holocaust with no graves; their names were written on the walls to commemorate their death. When you hear a number like 80,000 it is hard to appreciate the reality of how many people that is. Every person’s name was hand written and the entire building was full of names and where each person was from. I saw many familiar names and even a few variations of my last name.

The reality of what happened during the Holocaust was starting to hit me like never before.

Another area of significance to me was the Old Jewish Cemetery. Dating back to the early 15th century, this burial ground in the old Jewish quarter of Prague hosts an unknown number of burials with mossy tombstones protruding from the ground in sporadic directions. There are no dates indicating the time period of the graves (except for the ones with the Kabalistic Hebrew conversion symbols). This Cemetery is the final resting place of famous scholars and rabbis including the legendary Maharal of Prague. Walking through the cemetery was like traveling back in time. I realized that Prague was a place that once had a significant Jewish influence and is one of the oldest and most-well known Jewish communities in Central Europe. I felt an outlandish sense of empathy for the Jews that once used to be a part of the culture that are now lost in time.

It was strangely fascinating that a city with such religious history including amazing synagogues and huge churches could have a population that is primarily Atheist. But things only got stranger, more shocking and conflicting, during our visit to Theresienstadt.

Theresienstadt was a transit camp and was used for Nazi propaganda as a “model Jewish settlement”. Tens of thousands of people died there, some blatantly killed and others dying from malnutrition and disease. More than 150,000 people (including tens of thousands of children) were held there for months or years, before being sent by rail transports to their deaths at Treblinka and Auschwitz extermination camps.

While preparing for our visit to the concentration camp, I thought it was going to be a big courtyard with some barracks, a watchtower and barbed wire. It took me by surprise, completely breaking all stereotypes for what you would think a concentration camp to be. It was like a ghost town, a very eerie atmosphere with large streets and buildings, creepy trees and a foreboding ominous presence. Yet people still live their daily lives there like the Holocaust never happened. Our tour guide mentioned that most people who live there see no problem with their residency there and don’t even acknowledge that their home may have also been the home to victims of the Holocaust. It was hard for me to believe that such tragic events could be so easily brushed aside like it never happened.

The museum at Terezin was full of artwork, music, journals, poetry, theater and memorabilia from Jews that were living there during the Holocaust. I found myself asking; what would I do in that situation? What method would I choose to express myself during that miserable time of oppression? If and how would I survive?

The hardest part of Theresienstadt was going inside the crematorium. There we were, a group of Jews coming from Israel, standing in the middle of a Central European concentration camp, in a place where the most unimaginable things happened not so long ago. It all started to become too real. We each lit a candle and sang Am Yisrael Chai and Hatikvah together. I was overwhelmed with emotions that I have never felt before; sorrow for the history, optimism for the resilience of my people, appreciation for everything I take for granted, and the drive to live my life to the fullest every day.

What I found amazing was that despite all the death and misery prevalent during life in Theresienstadt, Jews still found a way to keep their faith. Buried deep in the middle of the old fortress, there is a hidden synagogue that was used during the Holocaust. On one wall of this obscure, cramped shul in the middle of a WWII concentration camp is a faded Hebrew inscription of the prayer “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning”. We closed our eyes and prayed. It truly was a moving and spiritual experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Overall, I can confidently say that I learned more about myself, my religion, and the history of my people than I had originally expected.

The trip made me appreciate the State of Israel as a home for all Jews.

I gained respect and admiration for the ambition and resilience that Jews have exhibited throughout history and the extraordinary lengths in which people have gone to preserve their Jewish identity and the practice of religion during times of turmoil and in the face of death. As I reflect on my experience in Prague I feel a void has been filled related to my knowledge about my Jewish Identity and myself. However, there is always room for growth and this experience is just one fraction of self-enlightenment I have felt since I have been living in Israel.

A Modern Day Epic

I left Los Angeles for Israel on August 15. Nothing about that Thursday morning seemed extraordinary. The sun shined down on the golden coast as it does every other day. Little did I know that this day was the beginning of a journey that I can only surmount as a modern day Epic.

I came to Israel seeking experience and adventure on a five-month program called Career Israel. Now, three months later I have made lifelong friends, voyaged to places of legend, fought heroic battles, found a job, and even fell in love. Yes, in three months, I was able to cover all the themes of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid.

Upon my arrival to the modern city of Tel-Aviv, I experienced an overwhelming flood of emotions. What those emotions were I was not able to describe that day. But the longer I live in this amazing country, the more I begin to unravel their meaning.

As I stepped off the cold airplane and into the Israeli sun, I was immediately hit with the 90% humidity that the Middle East is known for. I got into my cousin’s car, and we raced down the Ayalon Highway to Ra’anana where my entire Israeli family was waiting for me trying to fatten me up with the dates, figs, goat meat, hummus and falafel.

While sitting at the table in a near food coma, I had my first understanding of Israel. I knew I was home. It was during this first meal that I realized my Jewish Identity has no repercussions in this country.

Israel may not be my birthplace but it was clear to me that this land is also my home, and everyone who already lives here would welcome me with open arms.

I pushed on beyond the loving (yet confining) arms of my family and began my voyage with Career Israel. I left the high tech phenomena city of Tel-Aviv and in 40 minutes I travelled 3000 years back in time to Jerusalem.

It was traveling to this ancient city that I had my first battle.

A cabbie tried to take more money from me because he assumed my American accent might be a sign of weakness (little did he know I speak Hebrew). After about ten minutes and a number of well-placed verbal assaults, we came to an agreement. Emerging victorious I paid him a price that I found to be fair. Rather than being upset with me, the cabbie seemed content. He cheerfully wished me a “Yom Tov” and drove away. This was my second understanding of the people and mentality of Israel.

People here are tough, they’re even tougher than the New Yorkers. Here they are bred with thick skin, and do not mind a little confrontation. But at the end of the day, this confrontation is seen with a certain respect. One must stand their ground and try and get ahead. It garners a certain status, never settle in this country; always know there is a better deal.

Once I was victorious in my first battle against the cabbie, I met the Career Israel group at the Ytizhak Rabin hostel in Jerusalem. At first it was like a middle school dance. Boys awkwardly huddling together making small talk, making friends, while girls were in another corner, also feeling out the strange new people.

A jumble of accents and cultures clashed during the initial week. It was a fight for friendship, a fight for not being judged, and a fight to find the true identity of each of these new people. In one week we had to make a decision of who our roommates would be for the next 5 months.

I only wish I could have been a third party observing because this battle must have looked like a cocktail of the Jersey shore, Real Life, Big Brother, and Greek. To put it in colloquial terms, it was a shit-show.

However, what unfolded that week in Jerusalem was something spectacular. The pressure and heat we all felt from our new environment took us in as pieces of coal and spat us out as diamonds. During that week I met so many people who have displayed their character to me, locking their place in my heart as true friends.

As my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut wrote,

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured”

I can confidently say that in a week, with MASA as the catalyst, this group of 120 people laid the foundation of a community that has evolved and truly has cured any remnants of loneliness in my life.

The last and definitely most moving part of an Epic is the love interest.

I can say that in three months I have fallen in love three times:

First with Israel as a country, she has been sweet and sour and like in any relationship we sometimes clash but I love her imperfections and she has been kind.

Second with the friends I have met, they have inspired me to grow, encouraged me to evolve, and helped me shape who I am.

Third with a beautiful woman, but being the product of a Jewish mother, a gentleman does not kiss and tell.

All these experiences have made me stronger, helped me grow, and made me realize that my life, though complicated and undoubtedly human, has shaped me in a way that I am only beginning to understand.

I can truly recommend that spending a significant length of time in Israel is a necessity for any and every Jew, no matter of religious observance. It will only help you grow, answer many questions, and raise the right questions for the future.

Mandela’s Story – An Unknown Perspective

[su_intro]Israel joins the world in mourning the loss of an iconic figure –as shown on the front page of “Yediot Ahronot” on 8 December 2013[/su_intro]

There are certain watershed moments that redefine history.

Ranking them in order of importance is a matter of cultural perspective and geographical bias however as a Jewish South African and (I’d like to think) a caring member of the human race the date “the 5th of December” shall be burned into my memory as the day that the world lost a giant amongst men.
Now I am currently in Israel and was not at home to commemorate the life of this great man with my fellow South Africans however I truly believe that Mandela’s legacy transcends national boundaries, and although as a South African I may feel that I have a strong connection to Mandela because I live in the country that he fought for -the values that he stood for are as relevant to me as to someone in Israel.

Nelson Mandela (or Tata Madiba as he was more affectionately known-meaning “father of the nation”) was more than just a statesmen and a visionary. He embodied humility and the values of peace and re-conciliation. He dedicated his life to the realisation of these goals, and based on the response of the international community to his passing, it is clear that his example has inspired millions across the globe and Israel joins the world in commemorating this international icon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid tribute to Mandela as “a man of vision and a freedom fighter who disavowed violence” and Jerusalem based, former anti-Apartheid activist, Benjamin Pogrund stated that “Nelson Mandela endured so much suffering in his life and yet emerged so totally a believer in humanity, putting out his hand to the enemy, is why he is the most admired man of our age”. Many believe that Mandela’s attitude towards Jews and Israel was ambivalent but that is where I believe there is a discrepancy.

Unbeknown to many is that Nelson Mandela’s life was intertwined with a series of Jewish characters, all of whom were instrumental in his journey and I would like to acknowledge them in the context of his life story by explaining how they played a part in his life. Madiba was of royal blood and at his birth he was never intended to be the “father of the nation” but rather the king of the Thembu people and at this point I offer a perfect example of where a single act has created ripples throughout history .It is something to consider that if Walter Sisulu hadn’t introduced Mandela to the Jewish attorney Lazar Sidelsky who gave him his first job Mandela might have gone back to the Transkei , never gotten into politics and Mandela as we know him may never have existed.

If I read his immortal “speech from the dock” that maintained the morale of an entire nation during his long 27 year prison term I remember that it was edited by the famous South African Jewish author Nadine Gordimer; and as the current national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish students I feel tremendous pride in my organisation when I think that Johnathon Handler, chairperson of the UCT branch of South African Union of Jewish Students, was one of a group of 15 conscientious objectors to make public their resistance to war in the townships shortly before the End Conscription Campaign was banned.

There are so many other names to mention. Helen Suzman of the liberal progressive party (who religiously visited Mabida in prison) and one of Mandela’s strongest supporters during his presidency was the late former South African chief rabbi, Cyril Harris, who led South African Jewry through the transformation to democracy. On sighting Harris during his trip to Israel in 1999, Mandela proclaimed: “My rabbi has come!” At this point dear reader I hope that you are getting the idea that Mandela was not just a South African icon but a leader with deeply entrenched Jewish connections but I digress.

In terms of the question I know that everyone wants to ask. What was Mandela’s view on Israel? With South African Jews so passionately Zionist, the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would inevitably come up between them and Mandela. He accepted Israel’s right to exist within the 1967 borders and also promoted a Palestinian state. He is quoted saying “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders.” Nelson Mandela was a peacemaker who desired two states for two people and those who are using him to discredit Israel are grossly misrepresenting his legacy.

If one looks deeper into the issue, in his book “Long Walk to Freedom” he wrote, “I read “The Revolt” by Menachem Begin and was encouraged”. In addition, 1995 he attended a ceremony at the Oxford Synagogue in Johannesburg in honour of murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin (whom he deeply admired) and in October 1999, he visited Israel, accompanied by Jewish community leaders.

If one wished to be historically accurate, one can go back and reference Israel’s and South Africa’s relations during the Apartheid regime, which is not a fact that can be denied, however-and herein lay the greatness of Nelson Mandela-he was not a man who dwelled in the past. He believed in forgiving past mistakes and moving forward, and as President Shimon Peres put it

“He was a strong proponent of democracy, a valued arbitrator, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and above everything he was a builder of bridges of peace and dialogue.”

Nelson Mandela’s legacy is proof that one person can build a nation and change the face of society ; and it is my hope that one day someone will come along who will do for Israel what Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela did for South Africa.

6 Ways Your Story Can Change Israel’s Image

[su_intro]What happens when you type into the Google search query, “Does Israel”?[/su_intro]

Originally posted on

As you can see, it’s not so pretty. Of course, it is no surprise to see that Israel does not have the most positive image on the internet and online communities. With things like anti-Israel divestment campaigns and “apartheid weeks” on campuses across the nation, the negative Google results only continue to grow.

As with any negative, there is a positive. Post these 6 ways in to action online and we guarantee you are one step closer to turning that Google-frown upside down.

1) Tell Your Story

It all starts with you. Personal stories have proven to be the most effective strategy to positively re-brand Israel through social media outlets. Naturally, we are accustomed to empathizing with others rather than through common marketing tactics. A personal story builds a growing relationship between the reader, allowing audiences to finally be exposed to a personal and lasting connection with Israel which allows for that gradual shift in how people view Israel.

2) Share the Right Content

Finding content to post about Israel is easy if you know where to look. Instead of posting mainstream news articles about Israel, find unique content to share with your online community. Start now, search for these types of categories:

  • Heritage and Culture: History, authenticity
  • Quality of life: Personal stories and blogs
  • Tourism: Photos of travelers in Israel, articles or events in Israel, food in Israel.
  • Entrepreneurism: Technology/start-ups, medicine from Israel

3) Keep It Real

When finding a topic, it is important to try to find a common ground with your audience. Share relevant updates with friends that you know share these interests. Remember not to sound like you are trying to “market” Israel, this is personal storytelling strategy; just be yourself and keep it real.

4) Show And Tell

To be most effective and appealing, tell your story visually. Using photos or short videos are an incredible way to get your audience engaged. When posting, make sure to “tag” so you can engage a greater audience.

5) Find the Right Audience

Using the custom audience selectors (such as the friend option on Facebook) gives you the ability to choose which audience you want to see your post. Be selective by sharing with specific people, groups or networks that you belong to. You can even set up friend lists and send your post directly to them.

6) Get Personal

It is important to remember that though social media is an incredible innovation, it serves a basic human need that has existed for centuries – the need to communicate.

Taking the time for personal engagement with those posting away in your social media community is one of the most overlooked outreach tactics. Thank your followers, reply to their comments, show your appreciation, and ultimately build your reader’s loyalty.

Stay tuned to learn how to take the BOMAH storytelling strategy to the next level. In the next article, we will continue to discuss how to further engage your audience and give you the ultimate strategy on how to get people to like and comment on your stories.

Me, Myself and the Art of Storytelling

[su_intro]When introducing myself to the world and explaining what defines me, my introduction is usually rather formulaic; and since who I am and what I do are invariably linked it goes something like this…[/su_intro]

“Hi my name is Ariela Carno, I am 23 years old, I’m female, Jewish, proudly South African and a medical student. I have a passion for Israel and student politics, and I have the privilege of functioning as National chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students. In addition I am also a drama teacher”. Consider this introduction the equivalent of an electronic handshake.

In essence what you probably gleaned from this is that I have varied interests (or you think I’m mildly schizophrenic); however this month I am going channel these interests by putting my time and energy into working for BOMAH in the capacity of Public relations and content management.

What exactly does this entail you may ask, and why am I doing it? I applaud you for asking these two admirable questions because the “what” and the “why” are the fundamental queries one must ask in order to understand any situation-particularly the multifaceted world of Israel’s media relations. Regarding the “what”-there is a common misconception that in order to “help” Israel one needs to either donate large amounts of money or vociferously advocate the case for Israel through sprouting a copious amount of tedious facts (that nobody will remember), with a degree in political science, middle eastern studies and conflict resolution to back you up.

Now don’t misunderstand me-it is incredible if you feel passionate enough about this field to obtain a degree in “Middle Eastern studies” or “conflict resolution” however there are other ways to tap into your passion for Israel. Spending a mere five minutes on the social media platform of your choice, putting your fingers to a keyboard and writing about your personal experience in Israel can help showcase what an incredible place Israel actually is. This is owing to the fact that while it is difficult to relate to data and statistics you are a living, breathing individual and it is your stories, emotions, likes and dislikes that people want to read about. So please don’t deprive us of your words. Send us your stories so that you can place your own personal brand on Israel.

In terms of “why”

I believe being proactive regarding Israel is so important-I truly, honestly believe that if you are capable of doing something you have the responsibility to do it.

I strongly believe that if something is important to you, you will find time in the day to do it (even if it is done in those snatched moments between meetings) .I also believe that as a member of the Jewish people Israel is an integral part of my identity-an essential part which I cannot (and do not wish to) deny.
All that being said “stories are some of the oldest and grandest of human pastimes” and I look forward to meeting you through yours.

Shma Yisrael

For all the words that I’ve collected over the years, no cache of diction can offer a truer insight into the nature of this place other than it is very real.

Here, even the banalities that come standard in any quotidian seem to carry profound connotations beyond their immediate significance. In truth, I’ve found that merely standing on Israeli soil seems to in and of itself offer some weighty statement.

This place is laden with so much hope and redemption, and yet there seems to be a soldier shouldering an uzi for every square foot of land. For a peace-philic person, the acceptance of a very visible and necessary military presence can be jarring at first. Though like all things, it becomes familiar after a while — even comforting.

In my time in Israel I’ve come to understand that though in the US we talk about fighting for freedom all the time, very few of us have the vaguest idea of what that actually means — of what that actually looks like.

Without doubt, it takes only a few “normal” days here to realize that there’s some ineffable aspect to this land that is very charged — and so addictingly worthwhile.

In a correspondence with a former professor, a man whose stoic personality is slighted only by an occasional elvish smile, I was offered a reflection I’ve been carrying with me ever since. He wrote of Israel that

“everything seems played in a higher key of intensity an meaningfulness.”

If you’ve never been here before, it’s hard to explain exactly what he meant by that statement. My understanding comes with the ability to say: I stood on Mt. Bental and heard the rock fire in Syria; I didn’t feel afraid, I felt free. That’s my “higher key.”

Even for all of the propaganda, dissent, and conflicting opinions regarding what Israel is –Israel the political entity, the state, the complicated democracy, the military power — the ideals for which Israel stands are truly extraordinary. That is undeniable.

It’s the embodiment of a living dream, and that has a tremendous amount of beauty. This doesn’t always make the dichotomy of state and ideal any easier to stomach, though it helps. Ideas and actions: they’re not always the most compatible.

Even for all of the ideological snafus, it’s important to remember that complicated places often lend themselves to simple joys, and that is something that I’ve really loved here. Of course, there’s the unadulterated bliss in eating a fresh fig from Eretz Yisrael, dancing carelessly in a Ben Gurion terminal with a new oleh (immigrant), or wandering through tangled streets to find a shul simply because the singing is rumored to be wonderful.

Nevertheless, I am one for the profound, so where I most revel is in the lightness and terror of all of this newness, the finding of friendship with individuals in jarringly transitional phases, the marvelous misgivings of independent travel, and the curious act of pressing one’s forehead against the Kotel and feeling an unambiguous sense of vastness.

There are so many stories and beginnings to address, though I think for now I’ll end with words of Neruda that have been spinning through my mind since I first set foot in this place:

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this…”

I’m Back Again

[su_intro]I stepped off of the plane and whispered to myself, ‘I’m back again’. I was one of the last passengers off the airplane and as I walked up the jetbridge, I gave a little eye to the Israeli security agent. Her beautiful brown hair and fierce but friendly face forced a small smile from me.[/su_intro]

This seemed to remind her of her function and she doubled back towards me.

“What are you doing here in Israel?” she asked.
“I’m here to see my brother, Larry.” I answered with a smirk and an air of derision.
“When will you go back?” she asked, knowing well now that I was not a threat.
“I don’t know yet. I’m a flight attendant.”

With a smile and small look downward, she revealed that she knew she had lost this amicable standoff. I continued through the airport looking for more signs of heightened security, but I only found the familiar beautiful ceiling fountain in the central terminal of Ben Gurion. I was surprised how quickly they let me out of the airport onto the street, free to get in and cause trouble. Set free on Israel without even one interrogation at gunpoint.

Leaving the airport, I realized I might be in for some rhythm problems, as I had not slept on the plane. Nine hours of being forced to sit still was the perfect time to read and watch movies, not time to be wasted sleeping. And now I had arrived bright and early in the morning after blasting past the sun at nearly the speed that it was moving the opposite way. So, instead of dealing with finding the train into the city, I opted for the no-hassle straight shot of the taxi.

I took out the scribbled paper and told my brother’s address to the driver. Eventually we were in accordance and on our way to King George, Tel Aviv. En route, I experienced my first language barrier in a long time. The driver turned around and tried to speak to me. But, my spotty knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet and remnant memory of prayers did not exactly permit communication with the hairy cab driver.

I wanted so badly to get ‘the scoop’ and have my first real interaction in Israel. Instead, I sat in silence and wondered what the driver could have told me about the curious territory we were passing through. So at that moment, I determined myself to learn a spit of Hebrew during my time in Israel. But, the 60s-style Hebrew rock ballad matched my spirit of optimism about my upcoming adventures and I was forced to sit back and relax.

The taxi pulled up to Kibbutz Leni. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but I could tell that good times were had there. There was a young Australian guy in green running shorts standing around who was immediately friendly to me. We made friends and decided that during my stay we would invent better and better handshake routines. He gave me a quick rundown of his opinion of all the places to eat and then said he had to run, but he would see me later. I took a quick nap soon after, and when I woke up my brother had arrived back from work.

Here we were, brothers nearly 7000 miles away from our birthplace, in the Land of Milk and Honey.

I was taken on a whirlwind tour and introduced to what seemed like endless bright and welcoming faces. It was like being inducted into a club. My brother had spread excitement about my arrival and everyone quickly accepted me as a member. That night we went out to participate in some karaoke. The streets of Tel Aviv were dirty, but safe. The Bauhaus buildings were a familiar but more exotic form of the tropical style I was used to in South Florida. And, the cafes and spirit of bohemia far surpassed that of Brooklyn. Late at night, the city reflected a friendly neighborhood vibe versus the fast-moving day. This was the city that represented the Jewish spring revival and entrance into the modern world. Here, the Jewish people were living life in the sun, enjoying the new comforts of life, representing an old people. It is an old, new city.

After a quick spat of fun in Tel Aviv, Larry and I decided to scoot over to Jerusalem for Shabbat dinner. We made the last bus over and arrived shortly before sundown. We found our way to the building of some acquaintances of my brother and I was overcome by the friendly scene of Shabbat dinner with my new Jewish friends. We drank and talked all night, and every person’s contribution shone of sophistication, interest, and friendship.

The next day, Larry and I ventured into the Old City. We became lost on the way and rerouted through Mt Scopus. We were racing to meet the walking tour on time and sweating profusely by the time we arrived. We discovered just how tough it would have been to siege the city running uphill from the Northeast. The formidable walls of the city were then looming over us as we searched for an entrance. We high-tailed it through the smooth-block, narrow alleyways and up and down the stairs. People of a far more conservative nature than us peeked at us from their lives wondering what could require such hurry on Sabbath morning. The group was just leaving when we managed to join it and received an excellent guided tour of one of the holiest and most important cities in History.

On the tour I met a Dutch girl and the both of us decided to stow away for an adventure since Larry had to return to work. The next day we met an Austrian kid and invited him along as well and he decided to be our driver. We rented a car and began navigating our way to the Dead Sea. We disregarded our GPS and began driving off road through the mountains. Incredible crevices and cliff-faces surrounded us as we navigated the curvy roads. Through the clearing appeared a city in the desert with a large percentage of green to it. This, we realized was the oasis city of Jericho.
At the sight of Palestinian flags on the buildings, I thought to myself that we had made a grave mistake.

I then asked both of my friends if they were Jewish and I was nervous to learn that I was the only Jew. But, we drove through the city and the people did not look radical as they drank coffee and smoked shisha outside of restaurants. So we went out to explore and found they spoke English quite well and were extremely hospitable and nice. After exploring some ruins we were on our way cruising down the coast of the Dead Sea. I found the water to be miraculously buoyant, but quite painful and made a vow never to enter again without goggles.

After swimming, we continued our journey south. We were disappointed to learn that Masada was closed at the time we arrived, but we found a mountain and we hiked up just before sunset. The three of us consumed a bottle of wine as the night darkened and then gazed at stars, tossing rocks off the cliff, hearing them splinter and crash to their new homes below where they might lie for thousands of years.

We dropped the Austrian back off in Jerusalem and the Dutch girl and I began our drive back to Tel Aviv.
I was deeply exhausted at this point, but my spirits lifted at the specter of visiting my father’s old friend, Joe, down in Eilat. The son of a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and American expatriate, it was certain to be an enlightening experience. On the bus ride down to the corner of Israel, one can really get a feel for the landscape of the Middle East. The light, welcoming beige color of the mountains and dunes are deceiving; they have been there for a long time, and are not going anywhere no matter how much more developed Israel becomes.

I arrived at Joe’s semi-luxurious apartment. It seemed like it was kept stowed away from the world in a perpetual state of vacation. His place was one of the only constructions on an area of land just beyond the mega hotels. Under the slanted overhanging window of his elevated loft was a lagoon with a couple boats tied up. At the end of the outdoor hall of units was a beautiful boardwalk topped off with an infinity pool in perfect view of the setting sun and the Gulf of Aqaba.

Joe was brimming with hospitality. One more, young Jew enjoying himself in Israel was a confirmation to him of his strong allegiance to the Land of the Jews. He told me how he took a hiatus from law school at Columbia to serve in the Israeli Navy. He pointed proudly to the picture of him and his father aboard his Barak ship during the victory tour after battle. Joe and I spoke of literature and movies and I was impressed to learn that he was a writer and former producer.

The rest of my time there, Joe would continue to tend to his duties and keep his Internet followers informed of developments and evidence of reason to be concerned. We ‘geeked’ out most nights, sharing music and reading passages of our writings to each other. I even had the thrill of my life to participate in a Talmudic learning session with his father via Skype. Joe and I watched “Lawrence of Arabia” and marveled at how the both of us were a half an hour walk from the site of the Battle of Aqaba.

I finally settled on leaving, excited to return to the party that is Tel Aviv. I returned late at night and made my way back to Kibbutz Leni. Everyone was there, buzzing in wait for the fun of the weekend to start. I went out to purchase liquor to increase the merriness. On the way I discovered how quickly I had built a life on Tel Aviv. I was greeted and missed by the people at the grocery stores and bakeries next door, the sloppy guard at the mall was excited to see me again, and unfortunately for my brain cells, I was well received by my friends at the liquor store again, beckoned to taste their new arrivals. I certainly felt like I was becoming part of the community of the city.

When I got back to Larry’s room, I decided I would be taking a nap shortly in preparation for the parties to come that night. I looked at “The Epic Guide to Hebrew Grammar” and told it that one day soon I will know its contents in my head. I gazed towards the open window overlooking the park with its dogs roaming and kids playing, teasing each other with more advanced Hebrew than mine.

At Kibbutz Leni, we poured our drinks and gathered to see what makeshift costumes everyone had prepared for Halloween. The room was a vibrant scene of young Jewish kids from all over laughing and confirming friendships, all of us proud of our varying national identities but our one, strong common uniting theme: Judaism. We boarded the city bus and were on our way to the Florentine.

The following day, I sat on the stairs outside the building of my brother’s room and surveyed my experience in Israel. So many people had been so quickly adopted as close friends and cared for. This certainly felt like an important place to be. Israel was making moves, increasing the lot of the Jewish people. It made me think of Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller in Paris in the early 20th century. Here we have another thriving community with the world watching. Here moves were being made within a framework of an identity. The fact is, there is no place a Jew in their 20’s belongs more than in Tel Aviv. That’s where the real opportunity is and that’s where hundreds of thousands of Jews are waiting to be your brother and your friend.

Stargazing in the Negev Desert

[su_intro]Stargazing in the Negev desert, my first time in Israel, I thought that this place is where I belong.[/su_intro]

That was a special moment during my birthright trip this past June. Even though I extended a couple weeks I still had not spent enough time in Israel to peruse this newfound appreciation for my peoples homeland. After graduating from the University of Colorado I decided to continue my time in Israel with a MASA organization called Career Israel. Spending 5 months in Israel while gaining valuable experience through an internship seemed to be the perfect buffer before my entry into “the real world”.

Now, over two months into the program, the stars are starting to align. Travelling the country, learning new things, meeting new people, living and working in Tel Aviv has been such a remarkable experience. I spent Rosh Hashanah with an Orthodox family in Jerusalem and I walked the vacant streets of Tel Aviv during Yom Kippur. My boss, Itzik Yarkoni, has also taken me under his wing and given me a great amount of responsibility and training.

My internship is with BOMAH – Brand Of Milk And Honey. My position as Social Media Manager has challenged me to learn this new social media age and by being “dropped into the deep end” I am gaining the experience that I need. But it is really much more than that;

I have the opportunity to positively re-brand Israel using social media, with a strategy that is focused on sharing personal stories and experiences from people who have been to Israel.

When people go on programs like birthright they get really fired up about Israel and love their time here, but soon enough every day life returns and the motivation to help the homeland is lessened. People can continue to help by changing the way others think about Israel by sharing their story with BOMAH.

I still have three months left here on my program here in Israel, so during that time I am going to be blogging about my experience working for BOMAH at different café’s around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.