I’m writing to you with an update related to our plans in Ashkelon.
After carefully considering the security situation, the government of Israel gave Taglit- Birthright Israel and its organizers clearance to do our planned trip in Ashkelon this morning after all. We are looking forward to the opportunity to see our Israeli participants’ community and meeting their families.
I want to assure you that safety concerns are the first priority of our trip organizers. The fact that the government and Taglit- Birthright Israel have deemed this to be a safe time to visit Ashkelon is significant.
Ashkelon is Baltimore’s sister city in Israel and the home city of most of our Israeli participants. We feel very lucky to be able to take advantage of this opportunity to visit Ashkelon. While in Ashkelon, we will be working on a Mosaic in the style of Shalom Moskowitz with children at a school, as well as getting a tour of the city from the soldiers on our trip.
We will be spending the morning there and in the afternoon will be going to Tel Aviv, where we will be for the rest of our time here in Israel. We fly out tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m.
If you have any urgent needs, Amazing Israel’s Emergency Hotline can be reached at any time at 800-860-0525.
Here’s another selection of responses to particular experiences that we’ve had on the trip:
Golan Winery Really cool to listen to how wine is fermented, aged and processed. The tasting was also pretty great! -Josh G.
Yad VaShem (Holocaust museum) For me it was the third time at the museum, but it was the first time in an army uniform of the Israeli Air Force. Great experience - Addie (an Israeli participant)
Western Wall I never really understood the phenomenon of the Western Wall. All I’d ever seen was a wall behind smiling faces or bowed heads, torn pages filling the cracks of old stones. I was pretty sure that not much would change after seeing it in person. Yet there’s some sort of still energy that draws you in after touching the warm stone, and it’s almost like you can feel the past and the prayers surrounding you. I’m not incredibly religious, but I’ll never forget that feeling. - Maring E
Thanks for being with us, in so many ways!
American Trip Leaders,
Jacob and Yona
One of Eastern Europe’s hidden gems is Baltimore’s sister city, Odessa, says Brett Cohen, the new Baltimore-Odessa Partnership co-chair. Working with Andrew Razumovsky, the team says they plan to bring the vibrancy of Odessa culture and Jewish life to Baltimore – and vice versa.
Razumovsky, whose grandfather was born in Odessa, first visited our sister city in 1977. He said a lot has changed since then. What was then a small, dying community is today a dynamic Jewish hub. “You see the young generation in Odessa growing into real community leaders,” he says.
Cohen got involved because of his passion for the Israel and Overseas agenda of THE ASSOCIATED in general. He thinks the organization has done a terrific job educating our youth about Israel, but that the vivid Jewish past of our people in Eastern Europe – prior to the Holocaust – is oft forgotten. He plans to revitalize that education and play a key role in making what for over 20 years has been a “hands-off” or more monetary partnership into a hands-on experience.
“I want to bring Odessa culture here and focus on awareness, marketing, PR,” says Cohen. “I really hope to get other young adults involved.”
Cohen describes Odessa, which he visited last year, as vibrant, hungry for Jewish learning and full of Jewish pride. He sees the youth as an excellent starting point not only for the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership, but a three-way partnership between Baltimore, Ashkelon and Odessa. He suggests putting young adults from the three communities on Taglit-Birthright Israel buses together.
“That is low-hanging fruit to make those personal connections,” he says.
Cohen also suggests finding a way to incorporate the Odessa teens into the Diller Teen Fellows program.
Notes Razumovsky: “We are all part of a global Jewish community.”
The first of a series of updates from Baltimore’s Taglit-Birthright Israel Summer Trips
So far, we:
>>visited Rosh HaNikra Grottos in the Northwest corner of the country,
>>completed a demanding hike at Nachal Kziv and demonstrated our ability to support each other through challenging terrain
>>swam in the Mediterranean Sea at a beach in Nahariyya
>>visited the old city of Akko as well as the open-air market there,
>>and we began to explore and deepen our relationships with Jewishness.
Of our North American participants, half of the bus hails from Baltimore, Maryland, while the other half comes from many other parts of the United States. We have eight Israeli participants for the duration of the trip from Baltimore’s sister city, Ashkelon.
Here are some excerpts from an on-the-bus journal that we thought you might appreciate.
We asked: What have you noticed, around you and internally? Some people said:
“After a long day of travelling we finally made it! Looking out the window I can’t help but wonder to myself what events took place on the landscape that I’m looking at. It’s really exciting to be here, in a land so rich with history. I can’t wait for the trip to actually begin, so that I can finally explore! and hopefully make some new friends.”
“Right at this very moment we are getting to know our Israeli counterparts. They look and seem so different but really aren’t that different from us at all. Most of them are the same age as us (19 - 21). We met up with them after landing in Tel Aviv. The plane rides were long and tiring, however they gave us plenty of time to mix and mingle. After arriving in Tel Aviv, we gathered on the bus and began our trek to the north. The ride offered great opportunities to see the countryside and learn about the different areas within Israel.”
“Its gorgeous, hot, and lovely. There are lots of pretty very old buildings. My stomach is full of amazing Israeli food.”
“I am a city girl, so being in nature and especially doing outdoor activities in nature is not something I have much experience with. So, of course, I have noticed how incredibly beautiful the land is. I would like to learn more, however, about both the history of the land and the disputes over it. We have passed some Arab cities but have not had in-depth discussions on how all the different peoples of this land have come to live in their separate (and sometimes not separate) areas. I become very curious every time it is mentioned. I also have noticed how diverse the people of Israel look, at least appearance wise. I find this interesting and plan to keep looking out and eventually asking questions and hoping they are answered.”
“I can speak my mind without fearing that I offended somebody like I do in the United States.”
“Everyone is awesome.”
“The sea is beautiful (and cooling on a hot day)! The food is amazing, the scenery is beautiful, and the people are awesome!”
A new Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership (BAP)-funded project is up and running on Monday evenings at Havatzelet Ethiopian Community center. The project is called “Teaching English to Ethiopian Israelis at Havatzelet.”
Havatzelet Ethiopian Community Center is a small building in the center of Shimshon neighborhood, a neighborhood of “shikunim:” high-density, low-cost housing - rows of 4-story bare concrete buildings, of small overcrowded apartments, with no air-conditioning and no elevators. Many Ethiopian families live in this neighborhood and their kids spend most of their time outdoors. Havatzelet has a small staff of young Ethiopian Israelis who work hard within the bounds of a limited budget trying to provide a framework to keep these kids off the streets.
During the three years that Havatzelet Community Center hosted a previous BAP project (LEAP – Ladies Ethiopian Art Project), we became aware that many of the staff at Havatzelet have a common problem – they need to improve their English. They turned to BAP for help, and BAP has now given them funding for this new pilot project.
Lay leader Suzie Eigenstein, Head of English at Ashkelon Academic College, oversees the pedagogic side of things, and senior English lecturer, Nomi Sklowin, is the teacher. On registration day we discovered that our students include not only Havatzelet staff but also an Ethiopian Kes (high priest) and an Ethiopian minibus driver eager to communicate better with his tourist customers. Shai Damtew, Head of Havatzelet Community Center, said, “I have passed all my courses for my BA but I have not been able to pass the English exam. These English classes are saving my life”.
To help address the need for English lessons at different levels, we recruited teacher aides – a group of highly motivated volunteers from ESOA – the English Speakers Organization of Ashkelon. June Narunsky, former South African and Director of ESOA, said, “We are very happy to have this opportunity to join forces with the Partnership to work closely with the Ethiopian community.”
Mostly pensioners, our volunteers take direction from our teacher and tutor the students, consolidating class material and helping with conversation practice.
We hope that volunteers from Baltimore will join us over the summer, for a lesson, or two, or more. This is an invaluable opportunity to get to know this fascinating community, and our Ethiopian students are eager to speak to Americans and improve their conversation skills. The advanced class has shared their stories on the BAP website, hoping to find penpals in Baltimore. You are invited to write to them on the “Letter from Ashkelon” forum at http://www.qmarkets1.org/live/baltimore/subdomain/letters/end/home.
The neighborhood children have gotten wind of the English-speaking visitors at Havatzelet on Mondays, and are keen to be included. Thirsty for attention these kids are like sponges, eager to soak up any English phrases they can glean from the volunteers. The volunteers are busy teaching the adults English, but Gary, one of our volunteers, took a line of little boys out to the adjacent school’s basketball court to practice shooting hoops. His height and dunking ability convinced them he was nothing less than an ex-NBA star and he kept them out of mischief for two hours. Havatzelet is desperately seeking funding to start after-school English lessons for these kids.
The Baltimore-Ashkelon partnership is a wonderful opportunity for both communities to develop new projects that touch different populations. This is how the Partnership grows, expands and touches more and more individuals.