We salute Israel as it celebrates its 65th birthday!
Magazine of Na’amat USA Summer 2013 Vol. XXVIII No. 3
A Taste of Culture in the English Mama Loshen................................................4
Editor Judith A. Sokoloff
English-language theater holds a special place in the hearts of Israeli Anglos and visitors to Israel. By Michele Chabin
Assistant Editor Gloria Gross
Art Director Marilyn Rose
How does the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust stay relevant and dynamic in a changing world and impart its meaning for future generations? By Judith Sudilovsky
Editorial Committee Harriet Green Sylvia Lewis Elizabeth Raider Shoshana Riemer Edythe Rosenfield Lynn Wax
Letter From Kibbutz Kfar Blum, 1947..............................................................12 A recently discovered letter from Minnie Bernstein reveals the problems and satisfactions of life on a new kibbutz in the late 1940s — quite a different place than it is today.
Na’amat usa Officers
Na’amat Charter calls for women’s rights; high school student receives National Award; kids and parents love Na’amat day care.
PRESIDENT Elizabeth Raider VICE PRESIDENTS Gail Simpson Chellie Goldwater Wilensky
TREASURER Debbie Kohn
FINANCIAL SECRETARY Irene Hack
Signed articles represent the opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of Na’amat USA or its editors. Periodicals class postage paid at New York, NY, and additional mailing offices. Postmaster, please send address changes to Na’amat Woman, 505 Eighth Ave., Suite 2302, New York, NY 10018.
Book Reviews..................................................22 Take Action!
by Marcia J. Weiss.............................28
Around the Country.......................................... 29
Na’amat Woman (ISSN 0888-191X) is published quarterly: fall, winter, spring, summer by Na’amat USA, 505 Eighth Ave., Suite 2302, New York, NY 10018 (212) 563-5222. $5.00 of the membership dues is for one year’s subscription. Nonmember subscriptions: $10.00.
by Elizabeth Raider.....................................
Heart to Heart: Love, Tragedy and Strudel by Marilyn Rose......... 20
Na’amat usa Chairs Harriet Green National Funds, Gifts, Bequests Lynn Wax Club and Council Fund-raising
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.naamat.org
Our cover: In honor of Na’amat, renowned Israeli artist Rami Meiri painted a mural on busy Hayarkon Street (#9) in Tel Aviv. The mural is near the artist’s studio at 11a Hayarkon Street, which has a visitors center. Photo by Israel Malovani; inset photo: Rami Meiri.
Mission Statement The mission of Na’amat USA is to enhance the status of women and children in Israel and the United States as part of a worldwide progressive Jewish women’s organization. Its purpose is to help Na’amat Israel provide educational and social services, including day care, vocational training, legal aid for women, absorption of new
immigrants, community centers, and centers for the prevention and treatment of domestic violence. Na’amat USA advocates on issues relating to women’s rights, the welfare of children, education and the United States-Israel relationship. Na’amat USA also helps strengthen Jewish and Zionist life in communities throughout the United States.
Na’amat Usa Area Offices Eastern Area 505 Eighth Ave., Suite 2302 New York, NY 10018 212-563-4962 email@example.com Southeast Area 4400 N. Federal Hwy., Suite 50 Boca Raton, FL 33431 561-368-8898 firstname.lastname@example.org Midwest Area 10024 N. Skokie Blvd., Suite 226 Skokie, IL 60077 847-329-7172 email@example.com Western Area 16161 Ventura Blvd., #101 Encino, CA 91436 818-981-1298 firstname.lastname@example.org
s Israel is celebrating its 65th birthday, it is amazing to reflect on the long list of its accomplishments. We have been privileged to see and participate in the miracle of the country developing into a complex, diverse, advanced and innovative society. No other country or culture has realized such a scope of achievement in such a short history. From the dream of a small group of visionaries and the commitment of the many who joined them over the years, Israel developed into a vibrant democratic Jewish state. An old land got a new start. The difficulties the country faced in the early days seemed insurmountable: draining swamps; building cities, kibbutzim, moshavim and villages; absorbing an enormous influx of immigrants from all corners of the earth; reviving and reinventing a common language — while at the same time developing a viable economy and infrastructure and building a strong army to protect itself from neighboring countries seeking to annihilate Israel. But the dreams became a reality, and Israel not only survived, but also prospered. In these 65 years, the country has become a leader in all kinds of advanced technology and science, in medical and agricultural innovations, and rescue and disaster relief expertise. According to France’s Global Innovation Index, Israel is ranked fourth
I invite you to join us at our celebratory convention as we wish Israel a happy 65th birthday and mark our own 87 years of success. out of 125 nations in human capital and research and first in the world in research and development. It is also ranked first in quality of scientific research institutions, fourth in the world in knowledge workers and sixth in knowledge creation. Israel shares its experience and skills in a wide range of humanitarian and environmental fields to help people all over the world live better and healthier lives. It’s a country with tremendous creativity and potential. Even the dreamers could never have visualized the State of Israel in its modern-day form nor the sustaining and unifying impact that it has had on Jewish communities everywhere. Na’amat, too, has flourished over these years — and Na’amat USA has been its constant partner. It all started in 1924 with a simple request of a young teacher at a girls’ agricultural school on the outskirts of Jerusalem. She asked a friend in New York for a loan of $500 to dig a well to nourish the saplings they had planted. Gathering other women involved in the Zionist cause, she raised the money. From this first spark, Na’amat USA (then called Pioneer Women) was born and continued to grow its abilities to
help support the needs of Israeli women, children and families. We can take much pride knowing that our efforts have provided social services, schools and a vast variety of important programs in cooperation with our sister organization Na’amat Israel. As always, Na’amat USA relies on the involvement of our members to help us sustain and improve support for Israel and the services we provide. Generating new ideas for fund-raising, community involvement and outreach play an important part in membership recruitment and continued growth. You can help us shape the organization’s future by participating in our 41st National Convention in Beachwood, Ohio, July 21-24. The program will be exciting and informative — so come and share your Na’amat experiences and hear about those of fellow members from across the United States. (See page 28 for convention highlights.) I am inviting you to join us for the celebration as we wish Israel a happy 65th birthday and mark our own 87 years of success. See you this summer!
A Taste of Culture in the English Mama Loshen
English-language theater holds a special place in the hearts of Israeli Anglos and visitors to Israel. by MICHELE CHABIN
t was a bitingly cold night, but that didn’t stop the Raise Your Spirits Theatre from filling almost every seat at the Gerard Behar Theater in downtown Jerusalem. And all these seats were filled with women. The audience waited patiently for the start of the revival of Esther and the Secrets in the King’s Court, one of the troupe’s original musicals. The show is a lighthearted retelling of the Book of Esther, set in the 1920s. The cast is also femaleonly, about 100 Modern Orthodox girls and women.
As is the troupe’s custom prior to performances, the youngest member of the cast stood on the stage and read a psalm for the well-being of Israel’s soldiers. And at the end of the lively show, the cast and mostly religious audience members sang “Hatikva” and “Ani Ma’amin” (I Believe). Raise Your Spirits was created in 2001 by a handful of English-speaking women living in the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion. “Here in the Gush, people were hardly leaving their homes” due to the second Palestinian uprising that began in late 2000, says Toby Klein Greenwald,
Theater in the Rough performs Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Yishay Sklare
Photos by Rebecca Kowalsky
place in the hearts of many “Anglos” — immigrants who hail from Englishspeaking countries. Though these immigrants may be proficient in Hebrew, many continue to be active members of
While Tel Aviv is the land of Hebrew comedy clubs and improv, Anglos in search of a good laugh
Raise Your Spirits Theatre has a female-only cast. Performers are shown in the two photos on this page.
look to Jerusalem. the troupe’s director and co-founder. “Our neighbors were being killed by gunfire on the roads.” Searching for a creative outlet close to home, the women decided to perform Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamc0at. “We thought we’d put on one or two performances, but people wanted more and more and more,” recalls Greenwald. “We were written up in the press and women came from all over the country to see the show. We ended up doing 12 performances throughout the summer and fall.” The shows were therapeutic for both the actors and the intifada-weary audiences. “Every single night, we left the house to rehearse. It saved our sanity and gave us a sense of purpose,” says Greenwald. Raise Your Spirits is one of almost a dozen English-language community theater companies performing in Israel today. All have loyal fans who attend their shows, year after year, for a taste of culture in their English mama loshen. Though they aren’t a part of Israel’s mainstream theater scene, the country’s English-language troupes hold a special 6
the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) and subscribe to an English-language newspaper. The productions also have fans among the thousands of tourists, students, diplomats and visiting professionals in the country. The first English-language company, the Tel Aviv Community Theater (TACT), was established more than 50 years ago and offers shows and theater training to this day. The theater struggled when its longtime cast members grew old and could no longer participate, but its young director is trying to breathe new life into the company by recruiting actors in their 20s and 30s. Despite its large Anglo community in Jerusalem, English-language theater didn’t really begin to take hold until the mid-1980s, with the creation of the Jerusalem English Speaking Theater (JEST). Over the past 27 years, JEST has offered everything from Neil Simon and Arthur Miller to musicals like Annie and South Pacific. “Almost everyone who does English theater in Jerusalem started with JEST,” says Rafi Poch, founder of the AACI’s J-Town Playhouse and artistic director of Stage One, Israel’s annual Englishspeaking theater festival, which takes
place during the intermediate days of Passover. A number of JEST alumni (often the bilingual children of Anglo immigrants) have gone on to study at Israeli theater schools both in Israel and the United States. In the early 1990s, JEST was joined by the Hebrew University Hillel Theater Workshop, which was created to provide an artistic outlet for visiting students. In 1996, Mercaz Hamagshamim/Hadassah formed a popular troupe “whose mandate was to provide a social network for young new immigrants,” Poch explains. Forced to close in 2011 due to Hadassah’s budgetary woes, it later morphed into the AACI’s J-Town Playhouse. In recent years, new companies were born: ENCORE, an off-shoot of JEST with a penchant for Gilbert and Sullivan and Broadway musicals; and Israel Musicals, whose current production Ah, Jerusalem! is geared specifically toward tourists. Another addition, the Theater in the Rough, performs Shakespeare in the park every summer. The AACI’s Haifa English Theater (HET), founded in 1981, focuses on classic dramas and comedies. Based down south, in Beersheva, the Light Opera Group in the Negev (LOGON) launched in 1981 offers two to three large musical shows (with an emphasis on Broadway) a year at different venues throughout the country. Like community theaters everywhere, the Israeli ones generally subsist on ticket sales, sponsorships and donations. These barely cover the costs of lighting, costumes and theater rentals. While Tel Aviv is the land of Hebrew comedy clubs and improv, Anglos in search of a good laugh look to Jerusalem. Yisrael Campbell’s one-man comedy show Circumcise Me was honed in the holy city before its successful offBroadway run in Jerusalem a couple of years ago. These days, Campbell sometimes performs with Hahafuch, a comedy troupe comprised of energetic and very funny young Anglo immigrants. Hahafuch was one of the groups that performed at the annual Stage One festival, which brings English-language plays, music and theater under one roof during Passover, when tourists abound. Shimon Levy, a theater professor at Tel Aviv University, says there is really no
A theater production in an underprivileged neighborhood in Jerusalem Courtesy of Hahafuch
helped the young actors — Ethiopians, Americans, Canadians, British, Israelis Hebrew community theater model in Israel, at least not in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where the productions are professional. In contrast, the English-language productions “can be and should be defined as community theater,” Levy explains. “It’s a blessed thing and good for the people who do it and come to see it and enjoy it. And the fact that it’s not a professional theater doesn’t mean it’s not good or interesting.”
hose involved in the productions believe they fill a cultural void. Brooklyn-born Natan Skop, the 22-yearold co-founder of Theater in the Rough, believes his three-year-old ensemble contributes to the cultural life of Jerusalem by offering “affordable, accessible, quality theater in dynamic spaces.” Inspired by the New York Classical Theatre that performs in Central Park, Theater in the Rough offers free (donations suggested) Shakespeare that, Skop continued on page 26
and even a Jamaican — to form strong bonds.
Above: Hahafuch provides laughs with its improvisations and comedy sketches. Israel Musicals performs large-scale musical theater shows like Evita, below. Courtesy of Israel Musicals
Yad Vashem How does the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust stay relevant and dynamic in a changing world and impart its meaning for future generations? by JUDITH SUDILOVSKY
till strikingly beautiful at 86, Holocaust survivor Miriam Akavia lives in the spacious and airy apartment in North Tel Aviv she shared with her diplomat husband, Hanan, also a survivor, until his death in January. The walls are lined with dramatic paintings and family photographs. More framed family photographs are displayed on top of a low bureau that runs along one wall of the living room. One black-and-white photo shows her smartly dressed mother walking down a street of pre-war Kracow. Akavia was 14 when her three young cousins — who had been left in her charge after their parents were sent to a concentration camp — were torn from her arms and murdered by the Nazis as they liquidated the Kracow ghetto. She and her family were forced into the Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp. Later, she and her younger sister survived the forced Nazi death march from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen. Her parents and older brother did not survive the Shoah (Holocaust in Hebrew). Akavia came to Israel following the war and studied to be a nurse, raised two daughters and is a grandmother and great-grandmother. She also worked as an Israeli diplomat and in the Jewish Agency helping new Polish immigrants in Israel. A prolific author, she wrote 11
books about her family and her experiences during the Holocaust. She has volunteered in many capacities at Yad Vashem, and two films have been made about her. For many years, she participated in the March of the Living with Israeli youth — going back to the concentration camps and telling her story. But last year was the final trip for her, she says. Though her life has been full and vibrant, the scars remain. With deep sadness she relives the moment she lost her small cousins and recalls how elegant her parents were before the war. “People remember the Shoah on Holocaust Remembrance Day and then forget about it, living their lives normally till the following year,” she says. “But I remember it always and it pains me a lot. I try to keep busy with other things.” Akavia’s daughters never wanted to hear about their parents’ past, says Akavia, who went back to Kracow a few years ago with her children and grandchildren on a family roots trip but did not discuss the events of her life during the Shoah. “There was [always] a silence between my children and me [about that period]. But my grandchildren asked — they wanted to know and I told them parts of what happened,” she recalls.
Yet, despite all her activities dedicated to perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust, she had never submitted Pages of Testimony to commemorate the names of her relatives in the Yad Vashem Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names. Just a few weeks before Holocaust Memorial Day on April 8, Yad Vashem volunteer Talma Ofel, 71, comes to her apartment with a small stack of pages of testimony forms, ready to help Akavia fill them out. Akavia plies her with cake, tea and fruit before sitting down to work. Recording the names on paper is not an easy process, although the information requested is very basic: names, ages, birthdates, residence, marital status, how they died. Patiently, Ofel, herself the daughter of survivors, elicits and verbally untangles the details from the memories Akavia shares with her about her parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, recording the information on the form in neat Hebrew script. Thanks to these forms that survivors have filled out for friends and family who perished in the Shoah, Yad Vashem has been able to identify more than two-thirds of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Their names and biographies are document-
ed in the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names (www.yadvashem.org) in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish and German. (For assistance in filling out Pages of Testimony, contact: email@example.com.)
ecording survivors’ testimonies for subsequent generations is one vital way that institutes such as Yad Vashem make sure of the continuing relevance of their work. Educating about the history of the Holocaust is equally crucial, especially the study of the moral and ethical issues. As Shoah survivors die, and testimonies become fewer, the programs at Yad Vashem have shifted to put more emphasis on giving educators the tools they need to take on the responsibility of teaching about the Holocaust, notes Dorit Novak, the newly appointed director general of Yad Vashem and formerly the director of its International School for Holocaust Studies. Polls in Israel have shown that the most effective way of teaching young people about the Shoah is not necessarily taking them to concentration camps in Europe, Novak notes, but rather through carefully planned and executed educational workshops and seminars that expose them to the Shoah at a personal level, including testimony by survivors. The Shoah provides one of the most effective subjects for examining basic moral issues as well as the critical lessons for investigating human behavior. Studying the Shoah helps students develop an understanding of the roots and consequences of prejudice, racism and stereotyping in any society and
the dangers of remaining silent or indifferent when people are victimized. The Shoah demonstrates, says Novak, how quickly people considered to be “civilized” and “cultured” can fall to the depths of ethnic hatred and bloodshed and how vigilant we all must be. Professor Hanna Yablonka, head of the Israel Studies department at BenGurion University, terms the Shoah as the biggest human crisis in history and one that changed the course of international moral discourse forever. The
Illustrations by Avi Katz
Shoah is a story of the breakdown of human morals — it’s not just a Jewish story, Yablonka points out. As such, it should serve as a warning about our fragility as humans and the fragility of our moral Western framework, she emphasizes, noting that in the 20th century some 200 million people died as a result of hate crimes despite the legal safeguards put into place to defend human rights following the Shoah.
“We need to be on guard to protect democracy and be alert to every sign that democracy is being corrupted,” Yablonka continues. We have to be alert to our attitude toward others and minorities. And Israeli society is not excelling in that. We have to be on guard about the [reality of the Israeli] occupation. It is very important to show as Jews and Israel what happens when we are in power and how [we behave] when that depends on us. I am not sure if Israeli society has internalized that. I think many times they use the Holocaust to run away from that discussion. The Shoah needn’t be the compass by which Israel defines herself. Quite the opposite, I believe it must make us more moral, more humane than others.” It is not by chance that there are 500 museums worldwide dedicated to perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust, and that even the United Nations holds a commemoration day for the Holocaust. “AntiSemites might blame [the number of museums] on ‘Jewish control,’ but there are only 12 million Jews in the world,” notes Yablonka. “What it shows is that humanity has internalized that this is an incident that it can’t let go of.” The Shoah is a part of the regular Israeli educational curriculum, but it is not taught as a separate subject, notes Novak. Because of its complexity, it must be taught in cycles to fit the emotional and intellectual level of the students, she says. It is Yad Vashem’s role to provide the historical context. It is important to talk about life before the Shoah, she emphasizes, and also then the return to life. “You can’t understand SUMMER 2013
The stories students hear from survivors are the biggest lesson of the Shoah. What will happen when these people are not here? Will history teaching succeed? what you lost before you know what you had. [Jewish] life did not start at the concentration camps and it did not end there. We do not want to teach trauma. That is not a good base for an educational experience,” she says. “There was a world before Auschwitz and a world after Auschwitz,” echoes Yablonka.
ad Vashem reaches out to young Jews via one-day programs for Israeli high school students and Israeli soldiers and through various workshops for Jewish youth from abroad who visit Israel on programs such as Birthright and MASA Israel Journey. In 2012 alone, more than 300,000 students, soldiers and officers of the IDF and other Israeli security forces participated in seminars and pro-
grams of the International School for Holocaust Studies. Yad Vashem hosts both Israeli and foreign educators for 10-day to 3-week teacher training seminars at its International School for Holocaust Studies. They remain in touch with their graduates, sending materials and personally going to countries all over the world when invited to help with workshops. Using art, literature, history and discussions about civics and citizenship, they engage people who may have little or no prior knowledge of what happened during the Shoah. “We create a chain of educators who are involved in educating about and perpetuating the memory of the Shoah,” says Novak. For Spanish playwright Nicolas Paz Alcalde — who holds degrees in philos-
ophy, political science and family mediation — the two-week teacher training seminar he attended in 2008 was life transforming. “I mark a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ in my heart. What I learned [at Yad Vashem] forms a part of how I behave in the world,” he wrote from Spain in an e-mail interview. Everyone, especially in Europe, he asserts, “needs to learn and be aware of what human beings are capable of doing to one another when they dehumanize each other. It is important that everyone, Jews and non-Jews, continue studying the Holocaust because it is not only a part of Jewish history, but it also was a European crime against their own citizens and its lessons are universal.” Motivated by his experience at Yad continued on page 24
Support and Understanding Rwandan Genocide and Holocaust Survivors
n 2005, Yad Vashem played an important role in helping victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide begin to come to terms with what happened to them in their own country, 65 years after the Holocaust. Together with a French foundation and a foundation created by Rwandan genocide survivor Yolande Mukagasana, 51, who in the three months of violence lost her children, her husband, her parents and four of her five siblings, sponsored an eight-day seminar for 28 Rwandan survivors and professionals and Holocaust survivors to talk about genocide education and remembrance. In a very emotional
meeting between the two groups, the Holocaust survivors proved to be a source of support and understanding the Rwandan victims had not been able to find elsewhere. Wondering if she was in trauma or not in trauma, Hilarie Mukamuzimpaka, 37, confessed that she still liked to sing as she did with her family when she was a child although her husband and five siblings had been murdered. Holocaust survivor Genia Witman answered her: “I don’t know if you are normal. I just know that I would very much like to sing with you. Maybe someone else can tell us if we are normal.” Mukamuzimpaka said she felt the Holocaust survivors were like family. “They were willing to listen to us,” she explained. Rutazibwa Privat, 40, whose older sister and most of his extended family were killed,
saw the importance of amassing archival material. Yad Vashem’s large collection of artwork left behind by the Nazi victims specifically impressed him. In a way, he said, the material gives sense to the suffering. “We need to express ourselves, collect material of the genocide in our own history,” said Privat. If the world had learned from the Holocaust, he added, the Rwandan genocide would not have occurred. Ehud Lev, 71, who lost his whole family in the Holocaust, said the only difference between the two groups was that the Holocaust survivors were 65 years removed from their tragedy, while the Rwandan survivors were just beginning to face their ordeal. “What surprised me so deeply is that what [the Rwandans] told is so similar to what we experienced,” he said. “Suffering is suffering,
an orphan is an orphan; it makes no difference who or where.” A retired university art historian with four children and nine grandchildren, Lev said he hoped that he and his fellow survivors had been able to demonstrate to the Rwandan survivors that there is life after this tragedy. But Mukagasana noted that although she felt connected to the elderly survivors, she was unable to feel hopeful about her future: “When I speak to the Holocaust survivors, it is like I am speaking to the survivors of Rwanda, but I am afraid, because they did not give me much hope. It seems the wound keeps opening up over the years. I thought when I was 80 it wouldn’t be with me and I won’t be crying. I thought I would be able to live, but apparently that does not happen.” — J. Sudilovsky
Letter from Kibbutz Kfar Blum, 1947
A long-lost letter from Minnie Bernstein reveals the satisfactions and problems of kibbutz life some 65 years ago.
ow, I sit me down to write you a letter. May it be finished in this one sitting and sent off. Once more, I’m sure you think you’ve succeeded in losing me, but I’m not lost so easily. Have you people heard anything about me since I left? I have written quite a number of letters to Belle and Nate, with tremendously long descriptions of Kfar Blum and kibbutz life in general. I hope that you people have seen some of those letters. I could not possibly hope to repeat to each person I write all the things I have written about how I found life here, and so what I generally do is write each time as if my correspondent has read everything else I have written to anyone so far. But in this letter I will try to recapitulate for you and for myself my general impressions about the country and how we fit into it. We have been here close to nine months now. That is a pretty long time, really almost enough time for one to become part of the environment. People keep constantly asking me how we adjusted to life in Palestine and whether we are
not homesick for America. I get a peculiar feeling nowadays when I’m asked that question. I don’t seem to remember at those times that nine months is really only a short time and that possibly I may not be adjusted and acclimatized. I think that one asks himself such questions only when there is a likelihood of not being adjusted, otherwise one never brings them to mind at all. I suppose you have read the statement I’m going to make in many letters you have received from me in the course of the last 10 years. I feel as much at home here as if I had lived here the greatest part of my life. There is a trait of my character which has been pointed out to me a great number of times in the course of the last few years until even I have grown to believe it. I have been called “sameach b’chelko [content with one’s lot].” I have found it very easy to feel at home in the many places I have called home in the course of the last 10 years, and being in Palestine has been the exception. It has been very easy for me to
Photos courtesy of Kfar Blum Archives
Seventy years ago in the Upper Galilee, in 1943, Kfar Blum, was founded by members of the Habonim youth movement (now called Habonim Dror). These idealistic Labor Zionists, affiliated with Pioneer Women (now Na’amat USA), struggled against the Huleh swamps, malaria and unfriendly Arabs. The following letter, written by a woman originally from the United States, was unearthed by a Na’amat USA member, the late Esther Bernstein, who said the letter was sent to her older sister by a friend. This engaging missive was read at a meeting of her club, Orit, in Chicago a couple of years ago. The author, Minnie Berstein (no relation to Esther), provides readers with her astute observations and insights about kibbutz life shortly before Israel’s War of Independence. Recent correspondence with Yonaton Porat, the archivist in Kfar Blum, who did some research, found that Minnie was called Menucha and her husband Yis, Israel Bernstein. They had two children, Ezra and Nehama, and in 1950, they moved to Beit Yanai, a moshav in central Israel. Following are Minnie’s words, with punctuation and spelling edited slightly for clarification.
fall in with the life of the kibbutz. To me, it was no great surprise or disappointment. A great many things, some better and some worse, were not as I had pictured them, but I had left room in my overall picture of a kibbutz for possible differences and disappointments. This constant repetition in this letter of my favorable reactions may strike you strangely if I were not to explain to you that not everyone that came here is impressed with things as I have been. I’ll go into detail about these matters and perhaps you will understand what I mean. As far as the country is concerned, if I start telling you how I’m impressed with it I’m afraid I’ll sound like a Zionist propaganda pamphlet. I only could not say it so beautifully. The country is wonderful to look at and extremely fruitful wherever work has been put in. That’s one reason why one can’t feel discouraged at the site off a bare plot of ground such as I first saw when I laid eyes on Kfar Blum. One only has to walk over to the neighboring kibbutz to see what an additional four years produce or compare with a kibbutz 10 or 15 or 25 years old to have a picture of how the same place will be transformed in the course of the years. If the country were less beautiful, it would still be the same to us. The Yishuv is a Jewish country, all political
considerations to the contrary notwithstanding. This is another one of those feelings that one has to think about to realize it is there. To be in the midst of a wholly Jewish community at all times gives one all the satisfaction and feeling of security that the Zionist pamphlets said it would — only one never stops to remember the fact, except perhaps in writing a letter like this. As to the kibbutz, I want to describe to you what the newcomer is faced with once he has become acquainted with kibbutz life. Even these facts are not new to one who has prepared himself for life in the kibbutz, but some of these matters take on an importance one has never ascribed to them in speaking theoretically of the kibbutz. To qualify what I will say, just remember that some of the conditions I will describe are true to a large extent only in young kibbutzim. First, the whole matter of group living. The set-up in a young kibbutz takes very little notice of individuals. The dining room, food planning, cooking and purchasing is all done on a large scale with more or less of an average of what would be the taste of a large group, the result being a standardization of menus and recipes which pleases hardly anyone. In the matter of clothes, again the purchasing of materials in bulk will generally mean that a kibbutz will be dressed largely in blue, grey and khaki,
though here some discrimination may be exercised by the individual in choosing style and decorations. The same sort of uniformity continues throughout in the matter of building houses, making furniture and almost everything which the kibbutz distributes among its members. Then, also, so many things have to be done in a group, a lot of people doing the same thing at the same time. Eating in a crowded and noisy dining room, showering in a noisy and crowded shower house, same for the toilet. The only place for privacy and where personal taste can be exercised is one’s room. Here again, bachelors, male and female, usually live three or four together, and on occasions even a couple has to take a “primus,” a third person, to live with them. Group living has, in my experience, one bad feature. It makes for carelessness with property. This I have found less true in the kibbutz than in other groups, but it nevertheless exists. A private home or a private farm, no matter how large, will usually be cleaner and neater than the same operated by a group. I must mention here that in all the kibbutzim I have visited the standards of cleanliness are very high. Especially is this noticeable in kitchens, toilets and shower rooms, where sanitation counts most. Yet, even when dishes are washed by a machine and cupboards are scrubbed every day, the niceties of keeping a home kitchen clean are not observed. Photos on pages 12 to 15 show Kfar Blum in the 1940s.
The large problems involved in catering to the needs of a great many people make these small things unimportant. One more example, and there are hundreds I could give to get the point home. The way food is served to a large group, even when the food is good, the dining room pleasant and the dishes are clean, is still reminiscent of an army mess hall. At Ein Charod, where we happen to be now [temporarily], over 1,000 meals are served at a time, and most of them are exactly alike. Two choices are given. Whoever does not eat meat gets a meat substitute. The only people who eat differently are the sick and convalescents. Where else but in the army or in an institution would you find 1,000 people eating the same meal at the same time? The matter of work in the kibbutz is pretty much as one might picture it. There’s lots of it. It never seems to come to an end. The distribution of work is done quite equitably by an overworked and harassed committee. One would have to be an angel to figure out a perfect arrangement to suit every person on the work list, and on the other hand, only an inveterate Pollyanna could possibly be satisfied with his work assignment every day of the year. There are always injustices of one kind or another committed on this score, and half the kibbutz is always nursing a grudge against the sadranim [managers]. This may be on the part of the head of an anaf [work branch] who feels that he has been given either insufficient or incompetent help or on the part of the poor drudge who has been assigned an unpleasant or unsuitable job. Working with people is another matter. Not everyone knows how, and 14
among the people who don’t know the trick, there are likely to be foremen as well as ordinary workers. When both the foreman and the worker are members with equal rights in a kibbutz, this might give causes for clashes and the work might suffer. In a well established kibbutz, such things happen rather seldom because certain people have already earned the respect that their abilities deserve and they get the proper recognition even though they are hard to get along with. Another problem connected with work is a more complicated one and also one typical of young kibbutzim. The responsibility for a particular branch or job sometimes makes a kibbutznik forget the overall purpose of a kibbutz, and the kind of dog-eats-dog competition we know of in the big world outside suddenly finds its place in the kibbutz. This may make very funny reading to you, but most of us have been badly impressed with it. The only consolation is that the problem all but disappears with the years of a kibbutz, and yet we saw a small sample of it even in Ein Charod, which just celebrated its 25th birthday. The problem stems from the very excellent type of bookkeeping and statistics kept by a kibbutz. Each branch is allowed a certain budget each year, both in working days and in money for invest-
ment and upkeep, and a farm or industrial branch, for example, is expected to show a profit at the end of the year in inventory and income. Records in minute detail are kept of hours of work and ever y crush of expenses. Transactions between branches in the same meshek [farm] are carried on exactly as if they were between utter strangers. The non-income producing branches, like kitchen, children, etc., are also expected to toe the line as far as their budget is concerned. I will give you an example of what might happen in our barn where we have an extremely shrewd businessman in charge. The barn buys its green fodder from a branch called mispo, which every day goes out to the fields to cut and load grasses from the sections they have cared for to be consumed by the barn. When a load of fodder is brought in, the raftan [dairy farmer] weighs it carefully to make sure he is getting what he is being charged for. If the fodder is not of good quality I’m not sure just what kind of a settlement is made, but if it has rained the previous night, the raftan might claim that he is not getting the proper weight. Our particular raftan would not be averse to forgetting half a load somewhere in the barn if he could get away with it. Then there is labor piracy. A fellow driving a wagon or shoveling manure might be hailed by the dairyman and asked to give him a hand with something which turns out to be a few hours work. This sounds like a harmless enough act among friends, particularly haverim. But on the other hand, who is going to absorb the few hours work involved? The wagon driver had been
As far as the country is concerned, if I start telling you how I’m impressed with it, I’m afraid I’ll sound like a Zionist propaganda pamphlet. assigned to the vegetable garden, and shoveling manure is a skilled profession with a special department of its own. A more serious aspect of this whole problem, and which we all feel in the pit of our stomachs, is the matter of the trucks which the kibbutz owns. We own three trucks which constitute a trucking syndicate. They also have to show a profit, otherwise the kibbutz will not keep them. The result is that every time the trucks move it has to be a paid trip and every load carried for any department has to be charged against it. This applies also to the kitchen. The nonsense begins when oranges are so cheap in certain parts of the country that they are fed to cows; and in our section of the country where oranges don’t grow we eat oranges (rather an orange) once or twice a week because the trucking costs are so high that the kitchen can’t afford to pay them. The question of private property
in the kibbutz has had us all puzzled since we came here. After hearing the same problem discussed and mulled over in every kibbutz we visited, we are gradually coming to the conclusion that the concept of personal property is gradually changing, but it has reached no definite principle yet and, therefore, there is a certain amount of chaos. Back in the States, I was already somewhat confused about the concept when I heard good kibbutzniks advising me to take every stitch of property I owned with me, many of the things being of such nature that they could only be of private use. They advised taking all sorts of small electrical appliances and furniture for a room and all sorts of odds and ends. I took their advice in part and now I sometimes regret that I did not equip myself with a roomful of furniture. I’ll give you a little history of this problem. At one time, when the kib-
butz was young and so were the kibbutzniks, there was true equality of personal property — no one had anything. The kibbutz didn’t own anything either. Clothes consisted of the minimum one could get along with and the same with food and housing. As the kibbutzim began to earn their way, the profits which were made were reinvested in the meshek and still no thought was given to the need of haverim beyond the absolute minimum. Gifts from the outside were on principle not accepted, except of such a nature as might benefit the whole kibbutz. Came the day when a haver of the kibbutz who was on shlichut [a mission] outside of the country or in the city brought home to his wife a bedspread or a rug or some such luxury. Someone else may have been forced to accept in the form of a gift or inheritance a piece of good furniture. As time wore on, various things of this kind began to appear in the rooms of haverim
— a closet, a table, curtains, pictures, a lamp or perhaps a nice article of clothing. These items were not of a nature that could be divided between the group, and yet they were a sore spot because most everyone had none of these. Those who were clever with their hands or happened to be working in carpentry or foundry shop began to pick up odds and ends of material lying around and make facsimiles of the store-bought things a few haverim already had. At some point or other, the kibbutz came to the realization that the problem had to be faced and that improvement in the conditions of living of the haverim should be undertaken by the kibbutz as a whole. It was at that point that the making of furniture was started. By furniture was meant mainly a closet (since built-in closets until recently were completely unknown). This was already an improvement, but some haverim had gone beyond this. They had already made or come into possession of a table and perhaps a chair. By the time the kibbutz got around to supplying these, certain haverim had already provided themselves with other things, and the kibbutzim are forever trying to bring up-to-date all the
haverim with the things which the few already possess. This “providing themselves,” or as it is used in Hebrew, “l’histader,” is the sore problem. The principle of receiving gifts from outside was blown higher than a kite long ago. Every friend or relation of a kibbutznik knows exactly what sort of things are needed in a kibbutz room, and where no special request is made, the gifts that are received are always utilitarian and just the proper thing. To aggravate the whole problem, a great part of the kibbutz population was in the army during the war, and in addition to the use they had of army pay, in most kibbutzim ex-soldiers were allowed to keep their mustering-out pay to buy the sort of things they wanted for their room or for their family. Then, too, a certain number of people from every kibbutz either work in the cities, occupying the most important positions in the Histadrut cooperatives and institutions; others are drivers; others represent the kibbutz for purchasing or selling, and those people have expense accounts which have to be somewhat liberal. What happens from that point on is fairly obvious. Almost every person in a kibbutz has some source for either seeing a few grush [coins] every so often or for receiving gifts. I only mentioned furniture and clothes up to this point, but by now it is taken for granted that the kibbutz
provides these, and a well-to-do kibbutz makes very nice things or buys them, including flower vases, lamps and knick-knacks. But now from this point on, electrical appliances of every kind come into the picture. First, a radio, then an electric fan, a hot plate and kettle or an electrical kettle, an electric heater for the winter, an iron for use in the room, toys of various kinds for the children. Still, the kibbutz tries to make up the inequalities by providing the few or many who have not yet come into possession of whatever item is in question. Some kibbutzim have already bought a radio for every room and that is a tremendous investment. Another has bought electric fans. So it will continue, I believe, with the means at the disposal of each kibbutz until every member is provided with the comforts he particularly desires and then some more as he thinks of them. This is a peculiar and backhanded way of raising the standard of living. This is the problem of private property as we have found it in the kibbutz. In a young kibbutz like ours, the problem is a bad one because the kibbutz is in no position to provide anything more than the barest furniture to the old haverim and nothing at all to the newcomers. It happens that all newcomers like us were warned in time and really brought with us all the things to make life comfortable. The inequalities in those respects in our kibbutz are ter-
Kfar Blum Today
ibbutz Kfar Blum was founded in November 1943 by the Labor Zionist Habonim (now Habonim Dror) youth movement. The original group consisted of people from the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), England, the United States and Canada. These members of the Hechalutz movement considered themselves the vanguard of the
Jewish people in its struggle for regeneration in their homeland — the collective way. Some had worked on training farms (hachshara) in the United States to prepare them for the rugged life in Palestine. (Pioneer Women, now Na’amat USA, was one of the Zionist organizations involved in Hechalutz.) Subsequently, newcomers from 30 different countries
joined Kfar Blum — a malariaridden swamp, with no trees or houses and little in the way of roads. Eventually, members moved from tents to wooden shacks to concrete houses; fish ponds were created, agriculture was developed and the population grew. Seventy years
later, Kfar Blum is a beautiful community with a population of about 600: 250 members, 150 children and about 200 temporary residents.
In a young kibbutz like ours, the problem of private property is a bad one because the kibbutz is in no position to provide anything more than the barest furniture to the old haverim and nothing at all to the newcomers. rific. As I think of how I presented this problem to you, I realize that I may not sound as bad as it really is. Just remember that when I am preparing coffee in my room with the coffeemaker and the hot plate I brought from America and serve it to 10 or 12 people who are my friends, and use the service of cups and saucers I brought with me, it is no consolation to the dozens and dozens of people in the kibbutz who have none of these things that someday the kibbutz will provide everyone with these facilities. I, on the other hand, as altruistic as I might be, will not offer these things to the kibbutz to dispose of. I would be considered a fool if I did. I won’t go on with the subject any further. Letters must come to an end sometimes and the end of this one is not very far away. I hope I have succeeded in presenting the picture I wanted to give over. The problems I touched on here are only a few of those we face and cope with as we go making the kibbutz our
They farm 1,225 acres intensively, with grapefruit and cotton as major crops. The 650head dairy herd, half of them milkers, produce 3.5 million liters of milk annually. Poultry houses provide 600 tons of meat for the markets each year. They also raise sunflowers for oil and grow peaches and nectarines for the European market. Industry also flourishes.
home. I meant to mention some of the negative aspects, some of which will change with time and others which we may have to make peace with. When I sometimes think of what a narrow picture I give at best every time I write a letter describing some phase of kibbutz life, I wonder whether I am not doing the kibbutz an injustice in writing at all. People like you I hope will someday come and spend sufficient time to get to know it. But others will go around quoting little bits and pieces of things they read in people’s letters and get a completely wrong conception. Now just something about Yis and me personally. This letter is being written at Ein Charod where we have come on Avodat Chutz for the kibbutz. Yis works in the pardess [citrus grove] picking grapefruit and I am just a kitchen wench. We have just heard that the picking will come to an end sooner than expected and that we may go home next week. Too bad. This was all like a wonderful vacation. This is one of those
The kibbutz owns half of Galcon– Irrigation Control Systems. Workshops and facilities serve the needs of the kibbutz: shops for repairing farm machinery, a garage to service the motor pool along with electrical appliance and bicycle repair shops. A lovely hotel complex offers 147 4-star rooms, restaurant, spa and convention halls. For recreation, there is an Olympic-
well-established kibbutzim I have mentioned where everything seems to run quite smoothly. The problems of the kibbutz do not worry us. We have not even bothered to inquire what their financial situation is. We just work and sit back and enjoy everything they have achieved. But it will be wonderful to get home again, too. We feel as if we have been cut off from our kibbutz for ages. In the month we have been here, we have not been able to go home for a visit because of the difficulties of transportation to Kfar Blum. So little appears to happen while you’re on the spot, but just go away for a few days and there seem to be changes in everything. How are you and the family? What have you been doing and what are your plans? Does Palestine figure in anywhere? If it does, I hope you don’t let the “terror” stop you…. And now I will close with best regards to everyone from Yis and me. Minnie
size swimming pool, tennis courts, a cinder running track, sports center as well as kayaking and rafting down the Jordan River, activity parks and picnic areas. Over the past 10 years, the Kfar Blum chose to privatize many of its services and offers market-value salaries to its members. Its Web site states: The kibbutz is “no longer an
equal society and no longer offers its services for free to its members and residents.”
A Strong Call for Women’s Rights
presented its Charter for Women’s Rights at a festive event at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv on International Women’s Day on March 8. This is the place that Israel’s Declaration of Independence was signed on May 14, 1948. Among the honorable guests were Na’amat past presidents Nava Arad, Masha Lubelsky and Ofra Friedman; women Members of Knesset; Vered Sweid, the adviser for Women’s Status in the Prime Minister’s Office; and Dalia Dorner, former Supreme Court Justice; Na’amat board members and regional chairs. The purpose of the charter is to “shed light on all those rights that despite having been granted by the law have not been sufficiently enforced, as well as on other natural rights that have not been incorporated yet to current legislation,” said Galia Wolloch, president of Na’amat Israel. Originally penned in the 1980s, the document was revised and updated this year. The charter has been circulated to men and women throughout Israel for signing. Many political figures, including Knesset Members, have added their names — among them, M.K. Yuli Edelstein, the Knesset’s chairperson. It was also sent to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. The signing process is continuing.
Na’amat Israel president Galia Wolloch signs the Charter for Women’s Rights.
Charter for Women’s Rights “The State of Israel...will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, religion or sex….” This is the basic social principle on which stands the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, signed on May 14, 1948. In the 21st century, this statement has not yet been fully implemented in regard to the women in Israel. In the State of Israel, where women comprise 51 percent of the total population, and share an equal part of the burden, women are entitled to full equality, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, and true to this spirit, Na’amat presents this Charter for Women’s Rights, which will be based on the principles of absolute justice, on the principles of equality between man and woman, and on other international agreements concerning human rights. We demand that every woman in Israel is ensured her rights to: • Egalitarian representation in all organizations and institutions in the country, including those responsible for religious affairs. • Equal judgment for men and women in front of all judicial instances. • Full equal rights in marriage and divorce issues. • Personal security, both in the private and public spheres. • Economic and social security. • Free choice in regard to her own personal life. • An educational system based on equality between the sexes. • Equal opportunities in the labor force and equal pay. • Family-supportive work environments. We, the undersigned to this Charter for Women’s Rights, undertake to act in the spirit of its principles for the sake of an egalitarian and just society.
Israel inaugurated a magnificent wall mural on Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Street to commemorate International Women’s Day as Na’amat members of all ages enjoyed the celebration. The well-known artist Rami Meiri was commissioned to paint the wall that proclaims “Yes We Can!” (See front cover.) “Using the non-symmetric shape of the building allows for a sense of three-dimensional painting,”
Student Wins National Award Dear Haverot, am glad and proud to inform you that Tom Butbul, one of our students at Na’amat’s Hadera High School, won the prestigious National Award for volunteering in the community. Tom has been a volunteer for Magen David Adom in Hadera for three years. [MDA is Israel’s national emergency response organization.] He is an MDA instructor working regularly at several MDA stations. As part of his responsibilities, he serves as a guard at public
events. Furthermore, Tom heads the Youth Secretary Administration at the Hadera station and organizes monthly timetables for young volunteers. He also promotes many social activities and works actively in the gathering and distribution of donations for the needy. Tom was singled out because of his outstanding
service, his knowledge and extensive expertise; he is reliable, responsible, dedicated and highly disciplined. This prize is awarded by the Minister of Education to young volunteers in remembrance of 16-year-old Elad Riven, who was killed during a fire in 2010, while he was volunteering with the Fire Scouts. We are all very proud of Tom, and we are very happy that he is one of our students in the Na’amat educational technological network. Shirli Shavit, Director Na’amat International Department
Day Care: Up Close and Personal
he Sophie Udin club of Na’amat Israel, comprised of mostly women who have made aliyah (including many former members of Na’amat USA), has the advantage of enjoying a personal connection with Na’amat day care centers in the Jerusalem area where they live and elsewhere. The club would like to introduce us to some of the children for whom they provide scholarships. Meet Nofer, Yiron, Liron, Nehorai and Noah who attend Na’amat day care in Bet Shemesh, a mixed community with veteran residents and new immigrants from Ethiopia
and Russia. Sophie Udin members say it’s heartwarming to see how well the immigrants integrate with other children, many of whose parents and/or grandparents came from Morocco and Yemen.
says Meiri, whose exciting outdoor murals can be seen in many cities in Israel and around the world. At another celebratory event in Tel Aviv, members of “Young Na’amat,” women students ages 22 to 24 changed the names of famous streets that bear the names of well-known men to the names of famous women. These Zionist leaders, authors, social activists and others included Golda Meir, Sarah Ahronson, Beba Idelson and Rosa Luxemburg. The women made the news in Yediot Ahronot, a leading Israeli newspaper (photo on left).
Apology and Update
n the spring 2013 issue of Na’amat Woman, we published an article about our day care centers in Sderot (“Visiting Na’amat Day Care in the Danger Zone”). The writer was not aware that one of the centers — now located in a new, fully bomb-protected building — was the Epstein Center, as it did not yet display its plaque from the original building after a difficult move. The first building was established by Natalie and Manny Charach in memory of their daughter Janice Charach Epstein. The plaque, as well as photos of Janice, are now proudly displayed in this beautiful center serving 70 children. Na’amat expresses its sincere apologies to the Charach family.
At the Baka day care center, Michal and Noam look forward to being with their friends six days a week. Both children come from low-income families who can’t provide day care without the help of Na’amat. Michal’s father lost his job and has found only part-time work. Her mother is also temporarily unemployed. Noam comes from a large family, and his parents are grateful for the hours Noam spends in day care. They take pride in what he has achieved and the social skills he has de-
veloped as a result of interacting with the other kids and the warm caring atmosphere provided by all the staff members. “Regional chairperson of Na’amat Ilana Daniel, along with the director of the day care centers and the entire Na’amat Jerusalem crew, are extremely grateful for the assistance the Sophie Udin club provides for 48 children,” says club member Judy Telman. “Without the scholarship stipends, these infants and toddlers would not be able to continue their enrollment, and needless to say, it would be a major blow to them and their families. We often receive thank you notes from the parents acknowledging our assistance.”
♥ The joys of living and baking are what defined Auntie Mildred — eclipsing the tragedies that she accounted so casually. by MARILYN ROSE
y earliest memories of my great aunt — Auntie Mildred — are sensory. It’s the mid-60s and I’m seated on a chrome and grey vinyl chair, my face barely at table level, watching her hands deftly rolling out dough on a coarse, floured cloth — or maybe it’s a pillowcase. She uses a plain kitchen glass to measure the flour, no recipe in sight. Her hands are flying as she lifts one half of the dough-covered cloth and coaxes it over mounds of apples in the center. She is making her famous apple strudel. Waiting patiently as the incredible smell of her baking wafts through our house, the hardest part lies ahead. After my aunt cleans the table and wipes her hands on her apron, she leans over to pinch both of my
Illustrations courtesy of Marilyn Rose/ Melvin Sunshine.
cheeks and squeeze my face, and mutters — with her thick European accent — “a shaina punim” and plants multiple kisses all over my face. “The kissing aunt,” my cousins and I nicknamed her. When Auntie Mildred lived in Chicago, she and her first husband Joe (whose last name Sunshine was so appropriate for her) owned a small corner grocery store that was renowned for Mildred’s homemade baked goods. They sold the store and moved to California when I was very young. After Joe died and her kids were grown, whenever there was a simcha to attend, Auntie Mildred would make the cross-country trip. She would arrive at the airport with a slew of suitcases, worthy of the queen of some small kingdom. Staying at our house, she would bake in our kitchen and “hold court.” Night after night, all her relatives and friends — and she must have counted most of Chicago’s Jews and every one of her former customers among them — came to see her. During the day, Aunt Mildred would bake for whatever joyous occasion she’d be attending and to stock our freezer so we could enjoy the goodies long after she was gone. Besides the telltale aroma of baked goods, there was one more way to know that Aunt Mildred was in town. In the days of onetelephone-line households and high longdistance charges, she made the most of talking to all of her Chicago friends and relatives on a single dime, and there would be no way to reach our house by phone. Only one time do I remember a change in that routine. My sister, home on a college break, was looking very distressed as Mildred chatted on the phone. “Mildred,” my mom said, nodding her head in my sister’s direction, “her boyfriend might call.” That day, the phone line remained free. My sister and I never knew any of our grandparents, so Auntie Mildred was the closest thing to a grandmother that we had. She was actually the halfsister of our grandfather who had deserted the family when his children were young (we were told he was dead), but she had remained very close to and supportive of her ex-sister-in-law who was our grandmother. Our
grandmother died before we were born and retained mythical stature in our collective family history. Much of our history involved unspoken hardships and shame — a family without a male head of household was indeed a shanda. My mother and her sisters barely alluded to the difficult circumstances in which they grew up and that of the generation before them. Family history was a mystery to my sister and me, and the little we knew of the family was gleaned from late night adult conversation in the front seat of the car while we pretended to sleep stretched out on the back seat.
welve years after my own mother died, my niece (the first of the next generation) was becoming a bat mitzvah. In an attempt to make it a meaningful occasion, my sister and brother-in-law sent letters to all the older family members asking them to write a letter to my niece, giving her advice and as much family history as they remembered. I suspect this was not only an attempt to connect my niece to her heritage, but also an effort to fill in so many blanks in our own knowledge of the family tree. My sister and I were thrilled when Aunt Mildred sent a lengthy response. Her letter, in her beautiful script, has the characteristic run-on sentences and oral quality of someone who has learned English as a second language. It contains the name of a small hometown in Austria and names of great-great grandparents and siblings — and then comes the kernel of a tragedy that we could never have guessed: “When I was 10 years old and the first World War broke out and we had to flee...while we were fleeing I was lost, I kept on going with the other people until we come to Wiena [sic] and I had to go to a children’s hospital because I was undernourished, from there they sent me to a Catholic orphan home the nuns used to take me to all different churches and they made me kneel so I ran away so the police picked me up and took me back but they called the Jewish organizations and they sent me to a foster home.” Mildred briefly describes being sent to America where she was reunited with family — after what must have been several years — but as my sister and I read the text, we suspected that Mildred was shuttled between half-siblings as almost an indentured servant. Toward the end of this brief family history, my sister and I clung to Mildred’s description of our own mother as a girl and of her mother: “Your grandmother had long curls and when I used to visit them your great grandmother made potato pancakes and they were delicious I can still taste them that’s how good they tasted.” The letter of family history goes on for several more pages but then becomes a remarkable chronicle of all the baked goods that Mildred made for the various family brises and bar/bat mitzvahs. The tragedy in her life occupies just a single paragraph of the letter, while her joy in living and baking fill the many pages that follow. I can almost hear her speaking the last line, “If I won’t
be able to come I will send Strudel and if I will be able to come so I will bring Strudel.” In frail health, Mildred did send the strudel — just in case — but also managed to join us for this last simcha. Years later, those memories come back as I help a German au pair — whose skills have nothing to do with cooking — prepare apple strudel from a cookbook on my shelf, when she is called on to make a typical native dish to bring to a potluck dinner. I come into the kitchen where the au pair is struggling with the dough — and the dough is winning. She looks at me helplessly and I brush her aside. I have never made strudel, nor even handled the fragile dough, but suddenly I realize that I am channeling Aunt Mildred as I lift the cloth and the dough and lovingly wrap the apples in the dough — and I swear I hear my aunt’s voice and feel her kisses.
Far left: Mildred’s recipe book with photo of Mildred and the author’s father. This page: Aunt Mildred flanked by the author, left, and her sister Ruth; Mildred and Joe Sunshine with their sons, Kalmen, left, and Melvin, right.
Marilyn Rose is an artist, writer, illustrator, graphic designer, itinerant painter and water color teacher. Her paintings can be seen on her Web site, MarilynRoseArt.com.
BOOK REVIEWS The People of Forever Are Not Afraid By Shani Boianjiu New York: Random House 352 pages, $24.00
wish I knew what it was about Israelis — why they can create such addictive and powerful books, TV series and films (Waltz with Bashir, Beaufort, The Gatekeepers); how they can conquer the most difficult subjects like armies and war; how they can illuminate what they both mean and what price society has to pay for being part of a world where enemies and fighting are an intrinsic part of every single day, where almost everyone goes into the army, where the word army is as common as food. I’m obsessed by Homeland, based on the Israeli TV series Hatufim (Abductees). It’s about war and spies, sex, loyalty, deceit and trust. The People of Forever Are Not Afraid covers the same psychological ground, though differently. It’s written by an enormously talented mid-20s Israeli, Shani Boianjiu, whose subject is the life of young women in the army. Israel is still a country largely defined by men, in text and in film, so this voice — wonderful and original, both young and wise — is enormously welcome. And disturbing. So disturbing that the novel resonates for months. It’s impossible to forget what it’s like for women in the Israeli military. Here’s the story: Three high school friends, Yael, Avishag and Lea, leave their small village on the Lebanese border to go into the Israeli Defense Force. They are young, innocent and sexual. (Aside: Many years ago, I lived in the village of Kiryat Shmonah near the Lebanese border when I was in the Israeli peace corps. I was young, innocent and sexual myself. But by the luck of where I was born, in Connecticut, I
did not have to serve in any army.) Boianjiu describes that particular kind of village life — poor Israelis from many countries living a textured and difficult daily life. They manage, but many aspects of survival are a problem — marriage, money, adjusting to a society that is not entirely familiar. Boianjiu knows and understands this life. The book is episodic, not easy to follow. Three first-person stories are told in a flat and compelling, taut and tense way. Suicide, death and seduction are all woven together in small daily moments that do not have a linear path. The life Boianjiu tells us about is terrible — full of impossibility and endless problems — all these young soldiers, 18 or 19, having to confront war and death and firing weapons. In an odd seduction scene, one of the women is teaching a young male soldier to shoot (he’s even younger than she) and seduces him. Guns and sex, female-style. This reviewer was fascinated and disturbed over and over again. Yet the novel is one of understanding. The author knows what she sees and explains it so we, too, can know. Here’s one of the countless descriptions in the author’s unusual voice: “At night I could hear the Ethiopian and Moroccan girls talking and smoking in the wooden pergola outside our caravan. They were talking about what’s better, to tell a friend if someone is gossiping about her or not to tell a friend. They were stupid. Their problems were all outside of their heads. Everyone in the transitions unit was stupid. It was a unit designed for stupid poor people. People the army thought could do little except check IDs. We were stationed in places just as dangerous as the exalted infantry units, but when an infantry soldier passed through our checkpoint with his green or red or brown beret, he pointed and then he laughed. He was a hero and we were not heroes. We were just the police.” I keep having the recurring thought
that Israelis can be so disarming and astounding when they speak about themselves and war. They talk about war like no one else — full of psychological insights that turn nightmares into rich novels like this one. I’d like to believe that this ability, this process, this novel, is a sign of hope. — Esther Cohen
The Golem and the Jinni By Helene Wecker New York: HarperCollins 486 pages, $26.99
he fates seem to have conspired for Helene Wecker to have written The Golem and the Jinni. Wecker, who is Jewish, is married to a man of Syrian descent, allowing her to appreciate the mystical traditions and immigrant experiences of their two communities. She experimented with writing a series of short stories, culling material from her family and her husband’s, but she wasn’t satisfied. A suggestion from a friend who knew her passion for the fantastical led to the right path. “Instead of two families of different cultures meeting and interacting,” Wecker explains, “I now had two supernatural characters: a golem and a jinni. And somehow it seemed likeliest that these two would meet in New York in the late 1800s, when immigrants from Eastern Europe and Syria were coming to America in droves.” Yehudah Schaalman, a Polish dabbler in the kabbalistic arts, creates a golem as a wife for Otto Rotfeld, a businessman, who is disliked by women. He imbues his creation with the traits of intelligence and curiosity. Schaalman warns Rotfeld: “No golem has ever existed that did not eventually run amok. You must be prepared to destroy her.” Rotfeld travels to America by ship with an unusual, hidden cargo: a readymade bride waiting to come to life at his command. On board, he worries that he may have been cheated and, disregarding Schaalman’s advice to wait until he reaches New York, awakens her. Golems are by nature programmed to obey and
protect their master, so when Rotfeld dies of a burst appendix a short while after bringing his bride to life, she becomes disoriented. Though outwardly she’s a woman, she has to learn what it means to behave like one. Fortuitously, and a bit too coincidentally, she comes under the protection of Rabbi Meyer of the Lower East Side who intuitively realizes her true identity and names her Chava. He finds her a job in a bakery, where she comes into contact with customers and senses their desires. The Golem possesses supernatural strength, so, in order not to be found out, she deliberately makes mistakes in her baking and tries not to work for too many hours at a stretch without taking a break. The Jinni, a creature of fire, bound to a wizard, comes to America in a heirloom copper flask belonging to a coffeehouse owner. The coffeehouse owner gives the flask to a tinsmith, Arbeely, to repair. As he fixes it, Arbeely releases the Jinni, who has been trapped inside for more than 1,000 years. He is now forced to remain in human form by means of an iron cuff that was placed on him by the wizard. Nor can he change into any of the animal shapes his kind can normally transform themselves into. He’s also unable to enter dreams as he could when he was in his natural form. Jinnis are solitary creatures, and the Jinni, who has previously lived in the desert, needs to adjust to city life. Arbeely names him Ahmad and takes him as his apprentice. One day, when the Jinni takes a walk, he encounters a young woman. Unknown to her parents, he stealthily visits her at her Fifth Avenue address. Her pursuit of the forbidden enriches the narrative as the reader knows she’s putting herself in jeopardy. The woman is horrified at the consequences of her seduction. The Jinni takes to wandering the streets of New York at night and, in
this manner, he encounters Chava, who is in a terrified state after learning the elderly Rabbi Meyer has died. Each realizes the other is not human and a relationship develops between the two. As they both don’t sleep, Ahmad encourages her to accompany him on his nocturnal wanderings. They have much in common — learning to behave as humans and striving to keep their supernatural nature hidden. The Jinni seeks to shed his human form and achieve freedom from the wizard. The wizard, too, has his own quest, something so outrageous in scope that the craving of it seems forbidden. Other colorful characters add vibrancy and complexity to the narrative. Schaalman, who is curious about what has become of the Golem, arrives in New York and finds a job at the Hebrew Sheltering House, where Rabbi Meyer’s nephew is the director. The nephew, Michael, is an apostate and has the misfortune of being attracted to Chava. Ice-cream Saleh, possessed by a jinni, is another memorable character. An article in the New-York Daily Tribune written in 1892 inspired Wecker to write the story within the novel about him. Anna, who also works at the bakery, becomes Chava’s friend. She is convincingly portrayed until the end when, in her role as a messenger, she becomes somewhat too convenient to the plot. Wecker’s supernatural characters inspire reflection about nature and free will. The Golem and the Jinni is in the tradition of Western cautionary stories as well, an heir to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What happens when man usurps God’s role and creates beings? And the story has modern day relevance at a time when scientists can create hybrids and clones and revive species that have long died out. The Golem and the Jinni will be an
enthusiastic read for followers of the fantasy genre and for those who love plot-driven fiction. Fans are sure to crave a movie version of the book. The story, with its cinematic scope, would make a great transition to film. Even otherwise, readers will have an indelible image of two appealing supernatural creatures coming together and inhabiting New York. — Tara Menon
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead by Sheryl Sandberg New York: Knopf 228 pages, $24.95
aving lived under the laws of the Islamic Revolution in Iran as a young woman, I knew what it meant to be treated as a second-class citizen. When we immigrated to the United States in the late 1980s, I imagined the days of inequality were over. Instantly, possibilities opened that would have never materialized for a woman in a third-world country. I could choose to compete anywhere a man could. But then, a surprising shift happened the higher I moved in the world of education and grew more pronounced during my entrance into oral surgery, a male-dominated field. Interviewers, even acquaintances, posed questions that took me back 20 years and put me right in the middle of Iran. “Why oral surgery? It is such a masculine field.” “Are you married? Do you have any children? We need to know how serious you are about residency.” “No. Seriously, what do you really want to do?” When I entered the program, as the only woman, I noticed that female attending surgeons were constantly scrutinized by the men for surgical techniques, patient care, and when all else failed, even attire. If she were married, SUMMER 2013
BOOK REVIEWS she was not truly dedicated to her job. If she were single, she was probably too hard to attract a man. This happened in the early 2000s. Initially, the comments made me deeply uncomfortable. As time passed, however, they started to affect my confidence, making me question my own skills. To fit in, I even tried to become one of the boys and pretended not to mind the jarring locker talks. In her 2010 TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer, said: “Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in the early 1980s.” Yet, they “hold 14 percent of the executive officer positions. How do we change the numbers at the top? How do we make things different?” Her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead, a New York Times bestseller, explores this issue in depth. She uncovers layers of internal and external barriers that stand in the way of women excelling to the top, but also the role women play in perpetuating the leadership gap. Drawing from case studies, Sandberg demonstrates how career success is directly proportional to likability for men, yet inversely for women. In her 20 years of work experience she has noticed women tend to hold back. They refuse to step up, take credit for their skills, or “sit at the table.” Whereas men attribute their success to “core skills,“ women do so to “luck, hard work, and help from others.” Sandberg verbalizes issues women grapple with — often in silence. Her language, while succinct, is inviting, her information supported with hard data. She champions feminism with encouragement rather than anger. In an interview with 60 Minutes, she said: “I want every little girl, who someone says they’re bossy, to be told instead you have leadership skills.” We can gain the power to create change in the workplace by our presence in influential positions. In spite of her achievements, Sandberg exhibits vulnerability and humility as she shares her own experiences: mistakes to successes. Although named one of the most powerful women by Forbes magazine, she still has to push through 24
barriers. “Writing this book is not just me encouraging others to lean in. This is me leaning in. Writing this book is what I would do if I weren’t afraid.” She offers pointed advice on how to alter the dynamics at the workplace, emphasizing the role of one’s life partner at home. Despite the feminist movement, our society still expects women to take care of housework, even if they have careers, and men to bring in the money. For transformation to occur, as women learn to welcome their ambition, men need to be allowed to lend a helping hand at home without facing the stigma of weakness. Sheryl Sandberg’s use of her power to implement change is admirable. She is speaking up about what doesn’t work to create awareness and catalyze meaningful reactions. “Major changes,” she writes, “can result from these kinds of ‘nudge techniques,’ small interventions that encourage people to behave in slightly different ways at critical moments.” She has opened a door. It is up to us to walk through it. Let me be clear. I have not forgotten the brutality of where I came from. The grave injustice and abuse against women in the developing countries are appalling. Nor will I ever fail to appreciate the abundance of opportunities available in America. However, Iran and most developing countries, for that matter, do not claim enlightenment or progressive views about women. The problem in the United States is the glaring inconsistency between the progressive rhetoric and dissonant reality. Sandberg rightly challenges the argument that women are better off here than anywhere else: “…knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better.” Not every woman has Sheryl Sandberg’s resources. Nonetheless, we should not confuse this to mean it is easy for her to say. The challenge to push through happens at every level of power and influence. The stakes or complexities may differ, but the courage to lean in is the same. — Bahar Anooshahr
continued from page 10 Vashem, Alcalde — who runs a Spanish language school and a bed-andbreakfast in the small village of Jerte in a 500-year-old home with Sephardic Jewish roots — wrote a play Los Dilemas of Professor Heyman, which explores the moral dilemmas faced by residents of the Warsaw Ghetto and the spiritual resistance they exhibited. The play has been produced in theaters in Spain and Portugal, and he hopes to have it translated into English shortly. Studying the Holocaust is not just a lesson in history, Alcalde points out. It is replete with ethical lessons and examples of spiritual resistance in the face of terrible suffering. It enables students to questions things, to confront moral dilemmas, and above all to put themselves in the place of the other, the weak or the victim, in whatever situation they find themselves in, he writes. The attempt at dehumanization by the Nazis is offset by the lessons of true heroism and the strength of the human spirit to overcome evil, as expressed by the Jews and non-Jews who risked their own lives to save another life by heeding their consciences and hearts, notes Alcalde. “It will be up to the following generations to be capable of transmitting by our personal examples and our personal lives the legacy that we have inherited from those [survivors] whom we had the opportunity to meet,” he continues. “Not having the survivors will present a challenge to us all. I hope we will be up to the challenge. What happened there cannot be forgotten.” As part of its expansion of educational programs, Yad Vashem also sponsors occasional tours of the museum for Palestinians. Looking at the history of the Shoah provides Palestinians with a new way of understanding the Israeli mind frame and can give them a new perspective — and possibly have an influence — on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just before Holocaust Memorial Day, a group of eight Palestinians toured Yad Vashem as part of the Combatants for Peace delegation (CP is comprised of Palestinians and Israelis who were
once actively involved in the cycle of violence but now fight for peace). One participant called the visit “jolting.” Unfortunately, some of the Palestinians who signed up were not able to come because they couldn’t get travel permits.
uring his visit to Yad Vashem in March, U.S. President Barack Obama aptly expressed what can be learned from the Shoah: It not only shows how low humanity can go, but also how high the human spirit can go even when confronted with evil. What Obama said is important in the context of educating young people about the Shoah, Novak comments. “We deal with choices of people in a [seemingly] choiceless world. It, at first, appears that people couldn’t choose, but if you look back, they did make choices of dignity, respect, morality, between a person and his friend or a person and God,” she says. “When you speak to youth who are building their identity, there are lots of models of dignity you can present. For them, at this age, this meeting with humanity for good and for bad is highly significant. “We pray that [the students] will never have to put their values to the test, but if they are, we hope something that we said will help them to make the right choices; to help them understand that we have a responsibility for our surroundings,” she says. “People made decisions even if it brought them to their deaths. We don’t want martyrs, but responsible people. In today’s world, it should be impossible to ignore the signals. We need to sensitize young people and for them to be aware of what is happening around them. We can’t say we didn’t understand what was happening; it already happened. We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of not doing [anything].” Still, despite all efforts, education cannot bring about the end of genocides in the world — as evident by current world events, Novak says. “The reality of it is that there have been and always will be other genocides,” she continues. “It can happen again and it does. It hurts to say it, but all the legal action has not proven enough. Then we see that more education is needed. The
Shoah must become part of a shared memory not only of Europe, but also of the entire world.” Reflecting on the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which some 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman rulers, Professor Yizhaq Kashti, a Shoah survivor and deputy chairman of the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak, notes that though many Armenians work toward perpetuating the memory of the first modern genocide, many people outside their community still know nothing about that tragedy. “It is not good for humanity that only the Armenians are keeping that memory alive,” says Kashti. And the same could become true of the Jewish Shoah, adds Kashti. Therefore, it is important to find ways of maintaining the memory and perpetuating the lessons even after all the survivors have passed away. At the founding of Israel soon after the Shoah, the wounds of the genocide were still too painful for many people in Israel to come to terms with, explains Kashti, and so for many years the stories of the survivors were suppressed. Only following the Jerusalem trial of Adolf Eichmann, the mastermind behind the mass deportation of Jews to extermination camps, did Israelis slowly start facing the enormity of what happened to European Jewry. Now, Kashti says, the “subject will not leave the agenda. Only now are we beginning to understand that this is something we can’t comprehend in its totality. We study it over and over to try to understand. One has only to look at the number of books on the subject that continue to be published…. Today we understand more than we did 20 years ago. As we get further away, we understand new aspects within the story of the Shoah.” The Shoah continues to have deep meaning for young people while there are survivors who can bear witness to the events and tell their personal stories, says Kashti. Like Alcalde, he questions what will happen when the last survivors are no longer with us. “The stories they hear from survivors are the biggest lesson of the Shoah,” he says. “What will happen when these people are not here?
Will history teaching succeed? Will students in Israel say that this is boring?” The Massuah Institute includes a museum and an international seminar center aimed at evoking dialogue on the significance of the Holocaust in contemporary society and culture mainly for Israeli youth. Kashti brings up the issue of young people whose extreme reaction to the Shoah is to tattoo themselves with their grandparent’s concentration camp number as a form of preserving their legacy. He also points out the controversial campaign of an Israeli advertising agency that encouraged teens to use temporary tattoos of concentration camp numbers in what the agency felt was an innovative attempt to engage young people on Remembrance Day. “This is terrible because the tattoo is taken from the culture of death of the Nazis,” says Kashti. “They turned the Jews symbolically into beasts of burden. It is a terrible action, and we don’t have to use that to engage our youth.” Indeed, he says, the relevancy of the Shoah is given new meaning when one looks at the political realities of the world. “It is not just about Majdanek and Auschwitz. All these things have to be learned not only abstractly, but also in [today’s] reality. We have to learn from the Shoah that we can’t live anymore with a situation where other people are denied their freedom and basic conditions for quality of life,” Kashti emphasizes. Within the Israeli context, he says that means the Palestinian issue must be resolved in such a way that Israel does not take “totalitarian steps that take away the freedom of the people living in [the West Bank].” “We can do all the things in upholding the infrastructure [of teaching about the Shoah]: education, art, passing on of the ‘intellectual property,’ ” says Kashti. “All these things are important, but the real [lesson] is to keep protecting the rights of the minority. If we don’t do this, then we haven’t learned anything from the Shoah.” Jerusalem journalist Judith Sudilovsky is a frequent contributor to this magazine. She wrote “Preventing a World Food Crisis” in the spring 2013 issue. SUMMER 2013
continued from page 7 says, “is suitable for people of all cultural backgrounds…. The actors move around the park, running to another space every few scenes, and the audience joins them. We also do an evening of musical theater cabaret songs, two or three times a year, called Speakeasies, which are performed in a bar in Jerusalem.” The tiny company that Skop and “a handful” of his friends launched in 2010 has grown both in size and popularity. About 200 audience members showed up for the first performance in the park. The next night, 250. “A friend looked around and asked, ‘What play are you doing next year?’ ” The six Romeo and Juliet performances the troupe put on in 2011 attracted about 1,300 people. The next year, Much Ado About Nothing brought 2,000 people to seven shows. “There is a huge number of families who come,” says Skop. “The kids run after the actors and have a great time.” While many native Israelis think it odd that even veteran immigrants continue to prefer English performances over Hebrew ones, Skop and the other Anglo theater people think it’s natural for native English-speakers to hear Hamlet in the original English. “There are many excellent plays written in English, like Shakespeare, that lend themselves to performance in their original language,” Skop points out. Beyond the comfort of hearing “Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?” in Shakespeare’s own words, “English-language theater offers a community-making opportunity, a chance for everyone to connect through a common love of art and culture,” Skop says. That’s been especially true for young Anglo immigrants, many of whom moved to Israel kicking and screaming following their parents decision to make aliyah. Without the proper interventions, many young olim end up partying in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, which is lined with bars, till the wee hours. Others simply fail to adapt to life in Israel and their alienation leads to poor grades and poor self-esteem. “Every year, we commit to doing a 26
musical acted, directed and produced by teenagers,” says Poch of J-Town Playhouse. “The reason is that there really isn’t any other outlet for Anglo teens to give a sense of self-expression to their own culture. They go from being A students back home to failing because they don’t know the language or culture. Other theaters are taking our lead and working with young people.” A recent ENCORE production of the musical Hairspray brought together Anglo and Ethiopian teens and young adults for a performance that brought home the dangers of racism. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, director Eli Kaplan-Wildmann said the multiethnic production raised issues that hit a chord in Israel, where the Ethiopian and Arab minorities lag behind, partly due to inequality in government spending. “Here in Israel, obviously, the situation is very different from actual segregation, but I think there’s a lot of race issues that we just don’t talk about,” he says. The production with the Malkat Shva Center for Ethiopian Culture, located in an underprivileged neighborhood in Jerusalem, helped the young actors — Ethiopians, Americans, Canadians, British, Israelis and even a Jamaican — to form strong bonds. Mamei Gabatia, an Ethiopian Israeli who acted in Hairspray, reminded the actors and audience “that everyone is equal and color doesn’t matter.” The one-woman show performed by Chaya Kaplan-Lester in her stunning home-studio in the funky Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot, is also designed to convey a message. “My goal is processed theater,” she explains. “It’s a way for the audience to access Jewish entertainment and at the same time experience Jewish and Israeli content, personal growth and transformation. We want people to go on an inner journey.” Before audience members enter Kaplan-Lester’s four-story townhouse, which also serves as a women’s learning center, they are handed little booklets that look like passports. As the American-born actress deftly shares her personal journey, she pauses along the way and encourages the audience to record in the booklets some of the challenging or transformative times in their own lives. Watching Kaplan-Lester in her color-
ful Indian-inspired religiously modest skirts and fashionable headscarves (she good-naturedly rushed to the bathroom mid-show to adjust her scarf when it started to slip, threatening to reveal her hair in violation of strict Jewish law), it was hard to imagine her as a pampered Jewish American teen living in the southern United States, hanging out with her friends. She relates how she moved to Israel as a young adult and, to her parents’ consternation, decided to stay. Relating her journey in prose and poetry, she is both entertaining and moving. That night, the actress, who has been a Jewish educator and artist for more than a decade, performed in front of 50-or-so Anglo-Israelis. She would also like tourists, seminary and yeshiva students (men and women can sit together or apart) and others to see the show in Israel, and will be performing another version of her show this summer. Kaplan-Lester says her show is an intimate way for visitors to experience Israel. “People who come to Israel experience an onslaught of historical facts and sites on a map, but experiencing Jerusalem can be a deeper inner journey as well. I want to create an inner tourist attraction that takes people inside their own relationship with Israel. Hopefully, that will create a more lasting impression and connection,” she says. The creators of the musical show Ah, Jerusalem! also hopes to attract tourists as well as local immigrants. “The germ of the idea was to create something that people in Jerusalem could enjoy after a hard day of touring,” says former Clevelander Danny Paller, the show’s composer-lyricist (and son of Na’amat activist Edith Paller who moved to Israel from Cleveland a few years ago). “Touring Jerusalem is intense, and this is an evening of entertainment that connects to Jerusalem in a more engaging way, via music. But we feel Anglos living here can relate to the show, too.”
n the opinion of American-Israeli comedienne Molly Livingstone, if anyone needs some entertaining, it’s AngloIsraelis, whose new lives require them to fumble their way through Hebrew, master Israeli bus etiquette (a woman must not sit next to an ultra-Orthodox male) and know the location of the nearest
bomb shelter. “There aren’t [many] shows that engage the new immigrant community or share our humor about our daily struggles and culture shock,” says Livingstone, a founder of Hahafuch. Livingstone, who studied theater throughout her childhood in Los Angeles, says the group began “as therapy — an outlet” for young, newly arrived English-speaking olim “to express ourselves through humor and take a load off.” After their first show at the now-defunct Mercaz Hamagshimim, which was both an aliyah absorption center and a performing space, “it became evident that not only did we need an outlet, but others within the immigrant community needed humor about life in Israel as well.” From there, they began performing improvisation and comedy sketches and making videos throughout the year. “Now, our audience community has grown beyond the immigrant community,” she notes. “We perform for immigrants, [native] Israelis, tourists and different educational programs.” While some of Hahafuch’s sketches aren’t funny if you don’t know basic Hebrew — the one featuring a new immigrant who can barely speak Hebrew but who finds himself woefully mistranslating a speech delivered by the prime minister comes to mind — the majority can be appreciated by tourists. In one funny video (“All Shuk Up”), shown during the live show and available on YouTube, Livingstone, dressed in a yuppie red blazer, tries her hand as a seller in the Mahane Yehuda food market. After working alongside a merchant selling smelly fish, she accompanies the trash collectors to the market’s equally offensive garbage disposal site. Livingstone believes Hahafuch “fills a void” in Israeli society. “I always say our shows are AA – Aliyah Anonymous. Here it’s safe to speak your mind and talk all about those new immigrant mistakes, like having to go back to the bank four times because you didn’t bring the right documents or finding out you’re a criminal because you haven’t paid the TV tax. Or getting suckered into a horrible deal, whether it be your cell phone provider or at the shuk [market].” When people come to Hahafuch’s performances “they are laughing at us and at themselves,” Livingstone says.
Now that the troupe has a home base provided by the Beit Avichai educational center in Jerusalem, its members hope to reach out to what Livingstone calls the “Israeli community” — “to show them what the new immigrant community looks like, as well as our assimilation process.” Finally, Livingstone sees Israeli comedy as a form of Israel advocacy. “Through our sketches and improv, the world gets to see Israel in a different light. Here we don’t report the scary news; instead we make fun of life and give viewers the opportunity to see there is more to Israel than a war zone or peace process.” With English-speakers officially comprising just two percent of the Israeli population, performing here in English “is harder” than it is in the United States, Livingstone explains. “But it’s also an exciting challenge to try and expand our audience to a wider community. Imagine tickets selling faster to a comedy show in Jerusalem than seats in a synagogue on the high holidays!” she says with genuine excitement. Gary Ruderon, Hahafuch’s director, sought out an English-speaking comedy-improv troupe when he learned that his wife, now The New York Times Israel bureau chief Jodi Ruderon, was being sent to Jerusalem for the next few years. An architect and longtime member of the Annoyance Theater in Chicago and the director of the Magnet Theater in Manhattan, Ruderon was looking for a creative challenge — and he found one. Compared to comedy hopefuls in the United States and especially Chicago, Israelis lack comedy and improv experience, he points out. “Some of them have studied in the States a bit or here, but not that much,” Ruderon says of the Anglo-Israelis. “At the same time, they have a higher level of enthusiasm. They have a sense of urgency to perform.” Whereas fledging comics in the States tend to be quite young and often college students or recent grads, the members of Hahafuch are mostly working professionals with day jobs and kids. “They’re older and are taking their craft very seriously,” he observes. “They want to learn and create and invest themselves in learning and performing.” Ruderon and his troupe hope to find a permanent home “where we can have a base where we don’t have to ask
permission” to perform according to someone else’s schedule. Asked his opinion of the Englishlanguage theater and comedy scene, Ruderon says he is “optimistic” that the number and quality of performances will continue to increase. One sign that Israel-based Englishlanguage theater has arrived is the number of non-English speakers who audition for the shows. “For our production of Cats, half of our actors were native Israelis,” says Yisrael Lutnick, the director of the Israel Musicals company. Because Lutnick shares the profits with his actors, he’s able to present “semi-professional” productions. “We integrate some professional actors, graduates of Israeli drama and dance schools,” he explains. “They’re happy to have the opportunity.” Like other Israelis involved in theater, Anglo-Israelis must work around military reserve duty scheduling and the occasional war, when Home Front Command prohibits people to assemble in large numbers. But because so many Anglo immigrant directors, producers and actors are at least somewhat religiously observant, they make a point of not scheduling rehearsals or performances during the Three Weeks preceding the fast day of Tisha b’Av, for example. Once, a Jerusalem community theater director cast an actual married couple to do a love scene, not taking into account that some of the performances would take place during the woman’s menstrual cycle, when, according to the Jewish laws of niddah, women are not allowed to touch their husbands. That’s something that Greenwald, of the all-female Raise Your Spirits Theater, doesn’t have worry about. The Orthodox grandmother always dreamed of working in the theater, but growing up in the States, that wasn’t an option at the time. Her company, she says, is “a way to combine my love of Torah and love of theater. It really is a dream come true.” Michele Chabin is a journalist living in Jerusalem. She covers the Middle East for The New York Jewish Week and other publications. She wrote “Kishorit: A Unique Kibbutz” in our fall 2012 issue. SUMMER 2013
Rock With Na’amat at Convention!
USA has come a long way since its first Cleveland convention in 1945, when its major political declaration was to endorse the abrogation of the White Paper, open the doors to Palestine and establish “our old New Homeland as a Jewish commonwealth.” But in some ways, things have not changed enough. At our upcoming convention, Na’amat USA members can still “appeal to the whole world, the women and mothers of all nations…to give their support to our righteous cause for a life of peace, of creating and building Eretz Yisrael.”
Na’amat USA continues to help build Israel by creating and strengthening services for Israeli women and children — and members’ involvement is critical. We hope you’ll demonstrate and celebrate your commitment to the organization’s vital mission at the 41st National Convention, July 21-24, at the the Hilton Cleveland East/Beachwood. “We’re thrilled that Na’amat Israel president Galia Wolloch, along with other Na’amat leaders, will participate in the convention,” says Chellie Goldwater Wilensky, national convention chair. Wolloch will address the organi-
War on Women
Part III: THE WAGE GAP
ifty years ago, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, signifying the nation’s commitment to ensuring that women are paid as much as their male counterparts for doing the same work. Over time, loopholes and weak remedies have made the law less effective in combating wage discrimination than Congress originally intended. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time earn on average only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, leading to a disparity of some $11,000 per year and as much as $434,000 over the course of a woman’s career. Women of color fared worse, with African American women earning approximately 64 cents and Latinas only 55 cents for each dollar earned by a white male. The pay discrepancy exists in all 50 states and in the 50 largest metropolitan areas. These statistics are especially troubling in today’s economy, where approximately 40 percent of women are acting as the primary breadwinners in their households, and more than 60 percent are breadwinners or co-breadwinners. Especially in this
zation’s plans for the future and discuss “The Influence of Na’amat in Promoting Gender Equality.” Shirli Shavit, director of the Na’amat International Department, will update delegates with “Na’amat in Action”; and Masha Lubelsky, former Na’amat Israel president and Na’amat representative to the Executive of the World Zionist Organization, will speak about “Zionist Leadership in Times of Crisis.” “Galia, Shirli and Masha are looking forward to meeting all convention participants in person,” adds Wilensky. Also on the agenda are Mark Raid-
by MARCIA J. WEISS
difficult economic climate, it is vital that the economic security of working families is improved. Pay equity is critical not only to the economic security of a family, but also to the country’s economic recovery. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) are co-sponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would give employers a mandate to pay men and women equally for the same work and would ensure that women who win legal judgments for pay discrimination are awarded the same types of damages as those subject to racial discrimination. DeLauro has introduced a petition on the bill in eight consecutive Congresses, but the GOP-dominated House has blocked a full vote on the bill, most recently this past April. If enacted, the Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and ensure stronger enforcement of equal pay requirements by assessing stronger penalties for violations. Beyond the basics, however, we need to attack the problem of low pay and the financial instability of much of the work by women in our economy. Basic employment
protections must be extended to all workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act would remedy pay discrimination by requiring employers to demonstrate that wage differentials between workers holding the same position and doing the same work are based on skill and other factors besides gender; prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire about an employer’s wage practices or disclose their own wages; permitting reasonable wage comparisons among employees within clearly defined geographical areas to determine fair wages; strengthening penalties for equal pay violations; encouraging enforcement of equal pay laws through collection of wage-related data, among other provisions. Take action! Na’amat USA strongly encourages you to urge your legislators to vote in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act and end the wage gap.
Marcia J. Weiss, J.D., is the Na’amat USA National Advocacy chair. In the last issue of the magazine she addressed the topic of violence against women.
er, American historian and professor of modern Jewish history at the University of Cincinnati, whose topic is “American Jewish Women and the Zionist Enterprise”; and Yoran Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, who will cover the latest news from Israel and the Middle East. A panel on the “War on Women” will feature State Senator Nina Turner (D-Ohio); Laurie J. Wasserman, employment law attorney; and other women renowned for their expertise in women’s issues. Elections for Na’amat USA president and national officers will take place at this triennial event. Breakout sessions on leadership, advocacy, fund-raising,
membership and programming will give delegates a variety of new ideas to take home and share with fellow members. Participants will enjoy a visit to Cleveland’s renowned Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, and there’s an optional pre-convention trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Among the terrific entertainers are Shlomo Haviv, the popular singer/songwriter; the Yiddishe Cup, a top klezmer band; and Kathryn Sebo, a cantor and entertainer. Get in on the action and help us shape the future of Na’amat. Please send your registration in today (see page 31).
πGloria Gruber, right, member of the Esther Goldsmith club in New Jersey, got to enjoy the Big Apple when she volunteered in the national office of Na’amat USA. She is shown in front of 505 Eighth Avenue with Eastern Area director Ange Nadel.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
πBroward Council salutes Israel’s 65th anniversary at its gala luncheon. The featured speaker was Lyon Roth, representing the Consul General of Israel in Miami. From left: Isabel Resnick, Medina club president; Bess Frumin, Broward council co-president; Ruth Racusen, Broward council co-president; Helen Cantor and Helen Lefkowitz, Masada/Natanya club co-presidents; Sophia Winkler; Marjorie Moidel, Southeast Area National coordinator.
πPittsburgh Council holds its Annual Donor brunch. From left: past president Marla Scheinman, current president and national board member Marcia Weiss, past president and national board member Debby Firestone, past president Judy Sufrin and past president Carole Wolsh.
πNa’amat Young Professionals group (Los Angeles Council) sponsors a Women’s Comedy Empowerment Night. “What a fabulous night we all had with great professional talent, a great audience, raffle prizes and lots of laughs!” said Stephanie Renae Nygard, Western Area director. “And we raised lots of money for Israeli women and children.”
SUMMER 2013 Na’amat Woman
You are Invited to Join the NA’AMAT USA
Circle of Love A child’s future is in your hands! That child needs our Circle of Love to be nurtured and set on the road to a happy and productive life. Each Circle of Love provides a scholarship for an at-risk child to attend one of Na’amat’s multipurpose centers. These centers provide not only quality education, but also psychological and special needs services — all in a loving environment, 12 hours a day. A single donation of $2,000 completes a circle. Ten people, each donating $200, will also create a circle. Donors’ names will be inscribed on the Circle of Love wall in Israel and appear in Na’amat Woman magazine.
With your help, the Circle of Love will be never-ending. Please contact the national office for additional information. Phone: 212-563-5222; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: www.naamat.org.
Circle of Love Donors
Na’amat USA wholeheartedly thanks the following for providing scholarships for needy Israeli children to attend Na’amat multipurpose day care centers. Niki Schwartz in honor of the 50th anniversary of Natanya Club (San Fernando Valley Council) San Fernando Valley Council in honor of Marilyn Bristol She’s a Winner! Mazal tov to Gertrude Marcuson from Boynton Beach, Florida! She won a convention package in a drawing from the names of annual members who became life members from July 1, 2012, to April 16, 2013. 30
Norma Kirkell Sobel Na’amat USA is deeply saddened by the passing of Norma Kirkell Sobel, national recording secretary. A resident of Pittsburgh, she was a former president of NA’AMAT USA’s Pittsburgh Council and active in many local philanthropic, arts and community organizations. “Norma was a great addition to our national board. Her passing is a great loss for us as an organization, and we have also lost a good friend,” said Elizabeth Raider, national president. We extend our heartfelt condolences to her husband Dr. Michael N. Sobel, her children Dr. J. B. Sobel and Aaron Sobel (Melissa) and her grandchildren.
Convention registration form
NA'AMAT USA 41st NATIONAL CONVENTION CLEVELAND, OHIO, JULY 21-24, 2013 Please print your name as you wish it to appear on your badge. Name Address City/State/Zip Phone
Rooming with Arriving on
Name of guest/spouse Address City/State/Zip Phone
Friend of Na’amat USA
Total registration fee(s) $________________
Enclosed is my check payable to Na’amat USA
$450 (per person, double occupancy).
Single supplement: $200. Package includes 3 nights in the DoubleTree by Hilton Cleveland East/Beachwood plus opening night reception, 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners, closing brunch, all programs and entertainment, convention bag and materials.
Name on account Account number Expiration date Signature
Please send to: Na’amat usa, 505 8th Avenue, Suite 2302, New York, NY 10018.
Moving? Please send your new address to: Na’amat USA, 505 8th Avenue, Suite 2302 New York, New York 10018 or e-mail it to email@example.com. Include your old address and membership ID number.
Go to iGive.com and earn money for NA’AMAT USA! Choose NA’AMAT USA as your designated charity on iGive.com and you can earn a percentage of each online purchase for our organization.
More than 900 top merchants! Among them are Amazon.com; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Crate and Barrel; Design Within Reach; Macy’s; Sears.com; Teva Footwear and Staples.com. To shop and qualify for a donation, you must be logged in as an iGive.com member and you must reach the store through iGive.com or iSearchiGive.com. $5 bonus donation: Just make your first purchase within 45 days of joining.
Join us in Cleveland, Ohio, for the 41st National Convention of NA'AMAT USA.
July 21-24, 2013 DoubleTree by Hilton Cleveland East/ Beachwood Convention Package: $450.
Experience the spirit and excitement of a NA'AMAT USA convention. Join dynamic women in stimulating discussions and important plenaries. Enjoy socializing with members from across the United States and visitors from Israel. Generate new ideas and help shape the future of the organization.
Top Israeli and American personalities Gala banquet and festive entertainment Sessions on critical issues Election of national officers And much, much more!
Make our convention part of your family vacation! See page 31 for convention registration form.