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Israel’s Here & Now: 60 Years Young issue five

Is Ten Days Enough? our generation claims its birthright

Israel @ 60

how does she compare? Spring

boogie down


movement and music in jerusalem

PresenTense $5.00

real housing for real people building in the negev goes green

here & Now

Israel @ 60

how does she compare?

Chloe Safier


t the age of sixty, Israel has already accomplished a lot. With bustling metropolises, developed infrastructures, excellent universities and a handful of wars under her belt (and currently on her belt), Israel has certainly gained a weathered maturity. But she hasn’t hit her golden years yet; amidst Kassam rockets flying, neverending peace talks and corrupt officials, Israel isn’t having an easy start to her new decade. This practically begs the question: is it Israel? Or are the sixties, like the two’s, just kind of terrible? Of course, the only historically accurate way to answer this question is to pick four countries completely at random and compare where they where on their 60th, to determine once and for all if Israel has a ’real’ conflict or if she is just enduring a birthday everyone would like to forget, With no forethought, I’ve picked Peru, Finland, America, and the Republic of Ireland. After becoming colonized enough to understand the term, Peru achieved independence in 1821. In the adolescence of Peru’s statehood, ie. the 1840’s through the 1860’s, Peruvians bathed in the riches accumulated from the national export of guano (or bat poo). But they overshot the productivity of their natural resources and spent the 1870’s in debt, in battle and in a cesspool of political unrest. Then, on Peru’s 60th birthday, she linked arms with Bolivia and fought Chile in The War of Pacific. (Remember that from ninth grade history? No, you don’t.) The war was about a piece of disputed land rich with goodies called the Atacama desert, and by 1881, Peru’s capital at Lima was occupied by the Chilean invaders. The war didn’t end for two more years—when Peru relented and signed a treaty at Ancon, seceding a big chunk of land for peace. Disputed land, occupation and landfor-peace. That’s called foreshadowing. Finland, a notoriously boring country, doesn’t have much to offer in terms of internal or external conflict. She declared independence in 1917 from Bolshevist Russia and has been happy ever since (the happiest in the world, in fact, according to a Reader’s Digest study published

issue four 2008

this fall). But not so fast- the 1970’s in Finland reveal a blemish. That’s the decade when the country’s heart disease death rate was the highest in the whole world. Finland’s war on her 60th birthday was, in fact, taking place internally—literally within her internal organs. It’s tricky to say when Ireland officially became Ireland, since she declared herself a country in 1916, but no one really believed her until 1922. Let’s be diplomatic and look at 1980 as Ireland’s sixtysomething birthday. During the 80’s, Ireland was in the thick of ‘The Troubles,’ which were just as gloomy as they sound. The nationalist (Catholic) Irish were pitted against the unionist (Protestant) Irish over Northern Ireland’s relationship (occupation) with England and abundant religious discrimination. England thought she was just ‘keeping the peace,’ though the Northern Irish nationalists begged to differ. They demanded a freer Ireland and did so through a war of attrition, which included sneak attacks, public bombs, targeted killings and, in 1980, some highly publicized hunger strikes that left nearly a dozen dead. Let’s now turn to America, or as Americans calls her, ‘God’s Country.’ After centuries of plagues, public humiliation of the natives and innumerable apple pies, independence was declared in 1776 (or, if you prefer the Red Coat account, 1783). By 1836, the US had already spent several decades yelling “manifest destiny!” at anyone who would (or wouldn’t) listen, inciting brutal wars with the neighbors and trading land for beads. While the more frisky Americans were grabbing land at every corner of the young nation, those who felt more comfortable staying put adopted the ‘plantation lifestyle,’ which included corn husking (by slaves), cotton picking (by slaves) and gin drinking (made by slaves). After sixty years, was America stable, civilized israel @ 60

and at peace? No. Were all people treated equally under the law? Yes, if by people you mean white men. At sixty, the pesky issue of equality was just edging onto the national radar. In 1836, American news was filled with tales of the Alamo, the invention of Arkansas and the infamous gag rule. This rule, which sounds like it imposed some serious fun, was actually a big win for the pro-slavery faction, who decided that they didn’t want to give up their right to have slaves, much less talk about it. America at sixty was not the basket of pluralism and freedom fries that she is today; the country was gagged, war-fringed and severely lacking in anything that resembled basic human rights. If wild guessing tells us anything, it’s that the sixties might just be a bum couple of years. If anything, this should bring optimism to the hearts of young Zionists: history repeats itself, and that repetition can teach us valuable lessons. As citizens of the countries of the world, we’ve all experienced our share of sticky borders, neighbors who don’t like us, occupiers or guilt about occupying. When it comes down to it, it’s the heart disease that’s the real killer. What’s the lesson here? Israelis should really stop smoking, because the rest will work itself out on its own. Chloe Safier proudly holds both Israeli and American citizenship, and is thinking about joining Finland too. She currently lives in Boston and writes/edits for Presentense. features

societ y

REAL Housing for Real People

building in the negev goes green

Noa Levanon “The opportunity to move to Israel and take part in a project that, at its heart, is about supporting Israeli needs, was not one I could turn down.”

Photo by to come


srael’s first president, David Ben Gurion, retired to Sde Boker in 1963, determined to help fulfill his Zionist dream of “making the Negev bloom.” Over four decades later, Jews from Israel and abroad are achieving this dream by building solar homes for families in the Negev. Toby Lewis, a Master’s student in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is one of them. Lewis came to Israel in late 2007 at the invitation of her advisor, widely acclaimed engineer Chaim Brown, to assist with the company he helped to found, REAL (Renewable Energy for Affordable Living) Housing. She was well-suited to the project, having served as the construction manager for The University of Colorado-Boulder’s team in the Solar Decathlon, a semi-annual international competition between designers of small, solar-powered homes. “The opportunity to move to Israel and take part in a project that, at its heart, is about supporting Israeli needs, was not one I could turn down,” says Lewis. The government views settlement of this region as a potential solution to mitigating overcrowding in the urban areas near Tel Aviv. Development of the Negev region—60% of Israel’s landmass but home to only 8% of its population—has proved essential to addressing key issues of Israeli quality of life. Without significant incentives, however, the draw to settle in southern Israel is minimal. The REAL Housing project aims to provide such incentives. With Lewis as his construction manager, Brown is building an assembly plant for completely prefabricated solar homes that can be hauled to any destination in Israel. The houses are prepared in three sizes, making them suitable for students or young couples, small

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israel @ 60

families and large families. In addition to creating these affordable, ready-made houses, the project is creating jobs. The group’s first assembly plant, which has already produced a small prototype home, is located in a renovated former candle factory in Kibbutz Merav. Equipped to build sixty homes per month within a year, it has the capacity to employ over 100 workers. Since the group’s aim of ultimately building 200 homes per month will necessitate the opening of more plants, it will also significantly expand the group’s capacity to employ Israelis. REAL Housing currently plans to open five other factories in the Negev area, each with the potential to employ from 100 to 200 people. According to Lewis, Brown, who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 2003 with his wife, feels a “strong sense of obligation to create Israeli jobs and build affordable homes.” The professor believes that it is both possible and critical to combine these two goals with the use of renewable energy. Lewis seconds the viability and value of such a combination. She says, “One of the criteria at the Solar Decathlon was market viability, so there was a definite emphasis on the idea that an environmentally-friendly idea like solar homes can be mass producible and affordable, which I think is really important.” Lewis contends that the consumer base for such houses is real, particularly in the Negev region. There, affordable housing serves as a primary draw for attracting new residents, and the sunny climate is optimal for the use of solar panels. Specifically, the company is negotiating a contract to build sixty solar homes for a student housing community just south of Be’er Sheva. They have also been taking orders for homes from Israelis who have been displaced from the West Bank as communities there have been dismantled. Lewis and Brown are eager to build a sustainable business with opportunities for placing houses all over Israel. But Lewis describes a far more ambitious vision for the project: entire communities of solar homeowners, proving again that the society

environmentally-friendly solution is simultaneously economicallyfriendly. “Solar homes are more effective in numbers, because [building for a group] can cut down costs through mass production, as well as reducing the number of solar panels needed per house,” Lewis says. There is also is the added benefit of synergy: since an array of solar panels can often provide energy for more than one structure, communities connected on the same solar grid would be able to produce enough energy for communal structures such as schools, industries and synagogues at little to no extra cost. Even without such communities, solar homes will financially benefit their owners. Impending legislation, expected to take effect within a few months, will encourage solar homeowners to connect their homes’ solar panels to the existing electric grid and sell the solar energy to the Israeli Electric company. By allowing residents to sell this electricity, the legislation would grant anyone, with up to 4KV manufacturing ability by alternative energy, an exemption from income tax on up to 18,000 NIS, reports Real Housing VP of Development, Shaul Amir. Selling solar energy would contribute to the affordability of solar homes, which, if implemented in peripheral areas such as the Negev, would certainly serve as an asset to help the campaign to encourage settlement there. “It’s absolutely in the government’s best interest to encourage a shift to independent renewable energy,” Lewis says of the imminent legislation. The government seems to agree, with plans to build two 250-Megawatt solar power stations in the Negev. According to Amir, the power stations are a state priority, although the date of their implementation is unknown. The REAL Housing project is determined to be a catalyst. “The Negev was chosen [as the focus of the project] in large part due to Ben Gurion’s dream, but also because, despite a lot of government hype about investing in the Negev, not a lot of attention and emphasis has been placed in that region of the country,” says Lewis. “We wanted to be part of [that] change.”

Photo by Jared Zimmerman Noa Levanon made aliyah almost five years ago, shortly after receiving a B.A. in English Literature from Princeton University. Having completed military service as an officer in the IDF’s Liaison and Foreign Relations Division, she is now studying for a Master’s degree in International Relations at Hebrew University.

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israel @ 60

issue four 2008

Boogie D o w n

movement and music in the middle of jerusalem

Adam Soclof


ebauched, wanton, salacious. Words used to describe a seedy brothel, or, these days, a high school dance in America. As young as fourteen, the once innocent sweat of a young dancer has fermented into something more foul, as members of the opposite sex throw arms and buttocks

into the fray. Religious conviction or self-consciousness leads some students to ditch or sit estranged in a corner. However, everyone else is out on the dance floor freaking with the rest of ‘em—or at least trying not to look too out of place. Perversely, teachers, and parent chaperones are expected to watch—or ignore—as these young’n’s get frisky like disowned cats in a dumpster. Upon matriculating to college or metropolitan nightclubs, jungle cat imagery would seem more appropriate to describe the scene. Whether in clubs or our schools’ hallowed walls, there is an alternative to American dance ethos, and it rests in Zion. June 2007, Jerusalem—At the International Cultural Center for Youth in Jerusalem, approximately one Thursday each month is designated “Erev Boogie.” Attendance holds steady around 300-400 Jerusalemites, ranging in age from eighteen to thirty-something. Statistical outliers include a septuagenarian sporting a red beret, and a dancing infant buoyed by her young hipster parents. Dancers crowd into a dimly lit room with the feel of a small high school gymnasium, complete with streamers, a stage and a tall curtain that conceals a women-only dance section. Thankfully, any likeness to American high school dances ends here; with the exception of some men in tattered clothing, and some women wearing pants, shorts or shoulder-less T’s, the Boogie-goer’s dress suggests both comfort and modesty. Moreover, the layout allots each individual a personal bubble of space, where he/she may move freely without

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fear of being ogled or thrust upon. Moral support peppers the night of dancing as people nod and point approvingly at one another, shouting “nice moves” over the music. The music selection is both eclectic and surreal. Making the DJ’s cut that night are Afro-Cuban; classic Israeli folk dance; Reggae; the soundtracks to Hair and Fame; mid-nineties Hasidic techno phenomenon, Oif Simchas; and the suburban bar mitzvah party throwback “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Noticeably omitted from the musical selection are songs touting misogyny. For those seeking a reprieve from dancing, the walls are lined with packing paper and markers for rhythmically-induced expression. In a small dance studio across the hall, a live band plays. Along the way, a Bedouin-style chill zone serves cheap ethnic cuisine and beverages, including an alcoholic grapefruit-arak mixture, since everyone save for the dancing baby is legally permitted to drink.

At the International Cultural Center for Youth in Jerusalem, approximately one Thursday each month is designated “Erev Boogie.” Attendance holds steady around 300-400 Jerusalemites, ranging in age from eighteen to thirty-something. society

Reflecting back to Boogie’s beginnings, Avi states, “it wasn’t opened to be counter to other clubs. I’m just trying to make a better chevrah [society] in Jerusalem.” Avi Edry is the Boogie’s founder, and one of eight unpaid core organizers. He attributes the decision to create the Boogie to his interest in martial arts and movement, which he studied “for fun” at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Givat Ram, Jerusalem. “We wanted to emphasize movement, to [let people] bring [their] own dance,” says Avi. “At clubs,” he explains, “you see twelve hundred-thousand people all dancing the same. At Boogie, there are six or seven corners of the hall where people dance differently to different music.” Eyal Shemesh, an employee, first stumbled across the event about eight years ago. “I was just looking for a place to dance,” he explained. Four years later, he proposed to his wife, Galit—an architect who now lends her talents to the decorating effort—on that very dance floor. Renovations at the Cultural Center that began after the 5767 (2007) season forced organizers to experiment with a few different locations. They finally settled on the Gerard Behar Center in Nahlaot, the decidedly bohemian district of Jerusalem where it all began eleven years ago. Just like the early days, today’s Boogie begins with a DJ who provides background music for a half hour of guided movement. “The guided part is not like every class you take in movement,” says Avi. “It’s more jumpy, more authentic, which helps people get into the mood [for dancing].” About 2-3 hours into the dance, live music would strike up in the next room. This “jam session,” as Avi recalls, had a unique vibe. “What’s special was that the people jamming were not a band that normally played together; they were musicians from different bands who came to play together.” Boogie is an un-sponsored non-profit, serving an e-mail list of 2,000 and an SMS list of 2,500. This past year organizers expanded Boogie’s programmatic offerings. On Tuesdays, at Beit Avi Chai in the center of town, Boogie runs integrated music, acting and learning sessions based on both parshat ha-shavua and the tractate Pirkei Avot. Indeed, Avi is committed to the traditional lifestyle, and his language is seasoned with quotes from liturgy and his rabbi. Nevertheless, he understands the contradictions in his work. “According to halakha,” he points out, “a religious person can’t dance at the Boogie—but I’m not getting into this corner, what people do in their private life. I leave it open.” Openness is a principle that Avi emphasizes greatly. “At a club, there’s someone out front telling society

people ‘you’re in,’ or ‘you’re out.’ They think a big man or a big shot at the door will make a difference. At Boogie, everyone is ‘in’.” The results? “There’s no violence, no bad attitude. [Being open] is what will make the filter at the entrance.” In some ways, the recent renovations have matured the Boogie. Whereas the Boogiers of 5767 danced past 2:00AM, those returning in 5768 have seen the lights go out at 11:30PM. The twentysomething crowd has bemoaned the earlier closing time; still Eyal believes that Boogie “is the best it’s ever been.” The father of a one-year-old, he and his wife can partake in the 5:00PM-8:00PM session for children and parents. “It’s a place for children to dance—and a place for parents who can’t go to dance because of their children.” Another change is that alcohol is no longer sold. While Avi personally prefers an alcohol-free environment, he is “on the fence” about serving alcohol to make people open to movement. “Some people need it. If they can control it, fine. If not, I’m against it.” Could Boogie catch on in America? “Betach [Of course],” declares Avi. “I think the best place for Boogie is America. But we have to make hachana [preparation],” for instance, finding a way to lure Jews away from the clubs and towards community centers for a night of movement. Avi, however, remains optimistic. “I think that now’s a good time, with the garbage of the clubs,” suggests Avi. “It’s garbage: smoking, drugs alcohol. But changing it is a process; it doesn’t happen in one day.” Reflecting back to Boogie’s beginnings, Avi states, “It wasn’t opened to be counter to other clubs. I’m just trying to make a better chevrah [society] in Jerusalem.” As with several other aspects of American leisure, it could just be that Jewish students and young adults wish to revel in the same grinding and gritty dance culture as “everyone else.” However, for those bothered by the status quo, the Boogie beacon shines from Zion. Adam Soclof is the Creator and Producer of HyperSemitic, a Jewish dance & music project.

Photos by Eitan Hochster

israel @ 60

issue four 2008

my first Jewish girlfriend !!



Photo from Brian Goldfarb


n fall 2006, Adam Rosenfield arrived at the University of North Texas armed with a typical American Jewish upbringing—Hebrew school education and involvement with B’nei Brith Youth Organization. He shared nothing more than a tenuous association with Israel and Jewish nationalism. Indeed, when he began college, his strongest identification with the Jewish people had come from reading Anne Frank’s Diary in public school. With a miniscule Jewish community at North Texas and no surrounding synagogues for miles, Adam expected to live a life unconnected from his Jewish roots. Just over a year later, Adam is now spearheading a campaign to bring Israel activism to his campus. He reads Israeli newspapers on the web every day. He is seeking a long-term internship in Israel for the summer, and has even contemplated Aliyah. What caused Adam’s radical transformation? As he put it, “birthright Israel can do that to you.” Marlene Post, former Chairperson of Taglit-birthright israel North America, defined birthright in 1999 as “an outreach to young people who have not been drawn into existing Jewish frameworks and may therefore

issue four 2008

Is Ten Days Enough?

our generation claims its birthright

Jordan Chandler Hirsch soon be lost to the Jewish people.” To achieve that lofty goal, an astonishing alliance of Jewish philanthropists, organizations, and the Israeli government combined their efforts to send Jews 18 to 26 on a free ten-day trip to Israel. Now, thousands of buses stream up and down the country every summer and winter, carrying birthright groups from college Hillels, travel agencies, and local communities. Over 3,400 Israeli soldiers accompany the tour groups, bonding with North Americans their age and leading to important American-Israeli interaction. To date, birthright has sent over 150,000 young Jews on free trips to Israel in less than a decade. But quantity alone cannot measure success. Is birthright forging new appreciation of Israel and the Jewish people? How is birthright affecting the American Jewish connection to Israel? Is ten days in Israel enough to create a sustainable bond? israel @ 60

Has birthright become, as it endeavored, an instrument to recapture those who “might soon be lost to the Jewish people”? According to Dr. Leonard Saxe, Chair of the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis, birthright is exceeding expectations. In June 2006, the Cohen Center conducted a comprehensive polling study of 3,000 birthright participants and 1,000 non-participant applicants (those who applied and were rejected) from multiple trip cohorts. Dr. Saxe’s findings suggest that birthright participants scores on questions such as “are you planning to marry someone Jewish,” and “are you planning on raising Jewish children,” are on average 10% higher than those of non-participants—at 62% and 83% respectively. More, Dr. Saxe found that the “strongest single attitudinal effect of the birthright israel experience is on participants’ sense of connection features

to Israel.” 61% of 2002/3 participants affirmed that they shared a strong attachment to Israel— as compared to only 45% of non-participant applicants from the same year. Considering this evidence, Dr. Saxe believes birthright “has had a transformative impact on young adult Jews’ attitudes to Israel.” Yet none of these numbers are particularly high for a program meant to prevent intermarriage and inculcate a strong connection to Israel. In his report, Dr. Saxe conceded the effects of birthright on alumni three years removed from the trip seemed to taper off. Indeed, Yossi Katz, an instructor at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) for nearly thirty years, questions whether birthright is having a meaningful

according to Katz, parents of Jewish teenagers at public schools are opting to forgo a high school Israel experience for their kids in lieu of birthright. “Six years ago, everyone would be asking about security when I would come the US to recruit. Now, frankly, I haven’t had one person address security with me.” Instead Katz said, “parents are asking why they should spend $7,000 to send their kids on my program when their kids can go for free on birthright instead.” In the minds of both parents and students, Katz contended, birthright seems a free and fast fix to an Israel connection without the need for longer engagement. In Katz’s view, only longer-term programs can craft a new generation of Jewish leaders. “The most important years to touch a student’s

“Six years ago, everyone would be asking about security when I would come the US to recruit. Now, instead Katz said, “parents are asking why they should spend $7,000 to send their kids on my program when their kids can go for free on birthright instead.” and lasting impact on American Jews. “Right now birthright has that aura about it that it cannot be criticized,” Katz said. While he believes that birthright is certainly a positive experience, he highlights the distinction between positive and meaningful. Katz’s school specifically targets the same unaffiliated Jews as birthright does, since it is one of a number of long-term (anywhere from six to twelve week) Israel programs dedicated to providing a comprehensive Jewish education to high school students. Such schools have suffered a dropoff in applications in recent years because,


soul are 11th and 12th grade.” On birthright, “bus drivers and hotel operators tell you that they clean up vomit all morning,” while on AMHSI, students are “studying Jewish history from Abraham to Ehud Olmert six hours a day.” Katz argued that birthright is unintentionally competing with AMHSI and similar programs by not opening up to high school students. “Originally, birthright weighed offering every young Jew from the age of sixteen a free roundtrip airplane ticket and ten paid days in Israel which could be used on any quality recognized Israel program,” Katz said. “We could use that

hat is a home? That answer has evolved for me over time, especially in recent years. At 25 years old, I am in transition and in between families, the one I was born into and the one I will create for myself. I exist in the ambiguous space between worlds, searching for answers to questions that I pose with sincerity and curiosity. I sought answers when I went to Israel in January and again in August. But in Israel it seems that questions lead to more questions and answers are rarely finite. features

money to send the student to Alexander Muss or other programs, and it cuts the cost in half.” In the long run, Katz is convinced that birthright’s last-ditch mentality and “Israel-lite, Judaism-lite” experience will dramatically dilute the American JewishIsraeli relationship. “If someone proves to me one day that the birthright experience is enough,” said Katz, “then everything I’ve worked for my whole life is a mistake.” While Adam Rosenfield is pursuing Israel activism and summers abroad in the Holy Land, few can predict what direction his connection to Israel will when he enters the workforce and settles down. Katz may be right to worry whether birthright’s effect can survive the rest of college, let alone the ensuing years and decades. Dr. Saxe’s admission that birthright seems to lose its ‘momentum’ on participants three years after the trip lends credence to concerns about the lasting effect of a ten-day trip. If birthright’s goal is to serve as an “outreach to young people who… may therefore soon be lost to the Jewish people,” does its program truly provide a framework, a foundation, for its participants? Can we rely on birthright to sustain the future of the American-Jewish relationship? While birthright is not a magical solution for saving those who might “soon be lost to the

At Home in Israel Meredith Levick Meredith Levick is a New Yorker currently living and working in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In August 2007 she participated in the Galilee Fellowship run by Livnot U’Lehibanot.

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Jewish people,” it has filled a gigantic void in the Jewish world that Alexander Muss and other programs could not accommodate. When compared to six-week programs, birthright’s ability to establish a rock solid connection to Judaism and Israel seems tenuous. But birthright is not attempting to cram what the long-term programs do in ten days; it is not meant to achieve the same impact as six-week educational experiences. While the long-term programs and birthright seem to target the same population—unaffiliated Jewish students—they do so at different demographics and different ages. Though it does not obviate the need for participants to visit Israel in the future, birthright does play an invaluable role as a “booster kit” for Jewish young adults—a bridge program that initiates a framework for a connection to Judaism. To enjoy a lasting impact on the attitude of American Jews towards Israel, birthright should offer comprehensive alumni programming to its participants, above and beyond reunion gatherings and Facebook groups. Indeed, it should consider expanding its own long-term programs for its alumni to return to Israel and receive a more indepth encounter. Accordingly, Rabbi Daniel Brenner, Vice President of Education for birthright israel, reports birthright is in the midst of refreshing its infrastructure for its returning participants. “When birthright started, there was a feeling that it simply needed to give that ten-day gift to young Jews, and that established institutions could run follow up programming,” Brenner said. Yet those existing organizations did not respond to the challenge effectively. As the number of birthright participants soared, the problem only worsened. Recognizing the need to build its own community structure, birthright israel brought Brenner on eight months ago to invest in


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the currently operating ‘post-programming’ efforts—rebranding it as birthright NEXT. While participants returning to colleges can rely on their Hillels, post-collegiate alumni age 22-30 suffer a gap in Jewish life without connections to their local communities. Brenner notes that birthright therefore plans on “investing ten times our current amount” in alumni-related activities in order to enhance the post-programming professionals already on the ground, and empower full-time directors on the ground in ten to fifteen major US cities. Brenner believes that through substantial effort and funding, birthright can help “fill the enormous gap” in Jewish life for young Jewish professionals lacking community. As birthright embarks on an ambitious program to ensure that participants enjoy extensive infrastructure upon their return, it must navigate difficult waters. It must capitalize on the upcoming opportunities by reinforcing its message. birthright directors must ensure that the communities they seek to foster amongst birthright participants will eventually link with the broader Jewish community as well. While this task seems daunting, birthright can only achieve its stated goal by working not only to keep alumni connected to each other, but also to non-birthright participants. Only with these challenges in mind can birthright translate its initial impact into a sustainable influence on the American Jewish connection to Israel, and prevent so many young Jews from slipping into assimilation. Jordan Chandler Hirsch is a Columbia University sophomore majoring in History. He is Editor-in-Chief of The Current ( and a memberat-large of LionPAC. He can be reached at



Lost, But Not in Translation what happens when the band visits


Esther Breger

sraeli cinema produces its fair share of escapism: family dramas, romantic comedies, juvenile humor. But to film festivals and American art-house theaters, the country exports movies soaked in topicality, politics and conflict. About a group of Egyptians visiting Israel, The Band’s Visit seems to fit into the latter category. Expect cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, and one or two impassioned exchanges on war and justice. Expect significance. But first-time filmmaker Eran Kolirin is quick to set the record straight. The film begins with the following words, serving as both introduction and disclaimer, scrolling across the screen in Hebrew and Arabic: “Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this…it Invited to Israel by a local Arab cultural center, the band—the Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra to be precise—arrive at Tel Aviv airport expecting VIP treatment. But they’re met by no one. The image of eight stoic Egyptians, clad in identical powder blue uniforms and lined up all in a row, has the tragic hilarity of a silent movie. In fact, the film’s first twenty minutes are largely wordless, relying on visual incongruity and pitch-perfect timing for humor. Forced to use their halting English to reach Petach Tikva, the band ends up broke, on a bus to Bet HaTikva instead—a tiny desert town with “no Israeli culture, no Arab culture, no culture period,” as we’re told by local restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Alkabetz). What ensues isn’t epochal: culture clash gives way to common ground. But Kolirin forgoes treacle for drollery, and the film’s lingua franca remains the uncomfortable silence. The salty Dina finds beds for the eight Egyptians, out of amused boredom as much as goodwill. She herself hosts the band’s two polar opposites: bandleader Tawfiq (Sasson Gabbai), a man who won’t take off his hat and who calls Dina “Madame,” and Haled (Saleh Bakri), the band’s skirt-chasing screw-up. Instead of going after the heartthrob, she pursues the wizened Tawfiq, and their relationship forms the emotional center of the film. Poor Haled is left to find out what passes for nightlife in the desert—a roller disco straight out of ’76—and play Cyrano for a local Israeli boy, in one hilarious scene demonstrating what to do with a woman. The film alternates between the tragic, the absurd, and moments that manage to be both. The Band’s Visit is mostly in broken English, the only language the musicians and the locals share. In fact, the film was disqualified from the Oscar’s foreign film category for that reason, and Israel had to submit the Lebanon war movie Beaufort instead. (Expect significance). Here, politics remain under the surface, though popping up in a few clever vignettes, such as the obvious discomfort of one orchestra member forced to eat under posters celebrating the features

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Six-Day War. But ideology never quite simmers to a boil—the film dramatizes the unease of strangers forced into close quarters, not the meeting of enemies. Perhaps this is only possible because the Egyptians are stuck in a desert backwater, far from political arguments and far from the Zionist dream. The Bet HaTikva citizenry are more bedeviled by domestic problems, by the dead-end town they live in and the deadend lives they lead. The young Israelis the band interacts with were born long past Kibbutznik glory and far away from settler pride. They were raised on a steady diet of disillusionment and broken promises, and when they meet eight Egyptian musicians dressed in powder blue, no one talks about guns or wars. Instead, they sing. And I mean that literally. Haled’s favorite pick-up line involves singing “My Funny Valentine.” The dinner-table awkwardness between three band members and their hosts is diffused when they all channel Ella Fitzgerald and break into “Summertime.” Yes, these scenes are a bit too cute, a bit too obvious, but they work. And what else do you expect from a movie about musicians? When asked why the police would need an orchestra, Tawfiq responds, “It’s like asking why a man needs a soul.” Music and art and culture—if there is any hope for peace, maybe that’s where it lies. Or not. Towards the end of the movie, we find out the source of Dina’s Egyptian attraction. As a child, she used to watch Egyptian movies on the Israeli TV station every Friday afternoon, and since then she has dreamed of “big Egyptian love.” The streets of Israel would empty out because everyone was inside, watching Omar Sharif with Hebrew subtitles. Dina wants Tawfiq to be a movie brought to life—minus the subtitles. In some ways, the musicians’ entire visit takes place in the shadow of those Arabic melodramas. That’s all that art can hope to do—cast a shadow larger and stronger than politics can. But in this movie, it’s enough. Esther Breger Esther Breger is a sophomore at Princeton University studying Religion and Near Eastern Studies. israel @ 60

issue four 2008


No one has seen them, no one at all. There’s been nothing. This is why I’m asking you to raise your voices to demand a sign of life from my husband and his colleagues. Karnit Goldwasser July 16, 2007 outside United Nations Headquarters in New York

Bring Israel’s Soldiers Home Now 12

issue four 2008

israel @ 60

american zionist movement contents

PresenTense Issue 5 Preview  

A short sample of articles for PresenTense's special issue celebrating Israel at 60 years young

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