Sunday, July 27, 2014

Play for the soldiers: Israeli Sela in BB&T Open tennis finals today in Atlanta
SJLMAGSunday, July 27, 2014

A tennis court in Atlanta is far from Gaza, but as Israeli Dudi Sela has a chance to make history this afternoon, the conflict isn’t far from his mind.

The Kiryat Shmona native said he has given “100 percent effort” in honor of the soldiers back home as he plays the BB&T Atlanta Open. He advanced to today’s finals last night, defeating Benjamin Becker 6-3, (3-6), 6-3.

"I think I played pretty good in the first and at the beginning of the second set,” said Sela. “I'm happy there is (this opportunity to) challenge and I played much better after that."

The finals match will be broadcast on ESPN2 starting at 3 p.m. Central.

Sela now lives in Tel Aviv, which has been targeted by Hamas rocket fire. He said it is very emotional when he hears fans in the stands urging him to play for the soldiers.

Sela notched his 100th tour win on Friday.

Today he will face defending BB&T Open champion John Isner, looking for revenge after a loss to Isner earlier this year in a third-set tiebreaker.

For Sela, this is his second time in an ATP World Tour event final. In 2008 he made the finals in Beijing but lost to Andy Roddick.

The last time an Israeli won an ATP event was in 1993, when Amos Mansdorf won in Washington.

Sela is ranked No. 94 in the world, while Isner is ranked 12th. Isner has home-court advantage, having played for the University of Georgia.

Sela has become a celebrity in Israel for his tennis play. When he made a run to the Top 16 at Wimbledon in 2009, fans did a riff off a childhood song, “Dudi, Melech Yisrael” (Dudi, King of Israel).

This month, a video of him has gone viral, with over a million views. At 5-foot-9, he stood on a chair to hug Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who is 6-foot-10, for the post-match handshake following a match in Colombia that Karlovic won.

New Orleans, Birmingham to rally for Israel on July 29
SJLMAGSunday, July 27, 2014

With the ground war in Gaza continuing, Jewish communities in the region are holding rallies in support of Israel’s attempts to end the threat of missiles and infiltration attacks.

Birmingham and New Orleans will each have community events on July 29.

In Birmingham, Israel’s Consul General in Atlanta, Opher Aviran, will be the keynote speaker at a 6 p.m. event at the Levite Jewish Community Center, co-sponsored by the LJCC and the Birmingham Jewish Federation.

In addition, Birmingham Jewish Federation Israel Emergency Campaign Chairman Jimmy Filler will speak, as will BJF Assistant Executive Director Daniel Odrezin. Odrezin, who has spoken at Temples Beth-El and Emanu-El in the past week, returned from Israel just over a week ago.

Christian volunteer Jahan Berns, a local attorney, will also speak. Berns grew up in Uganda and immigrated to the United States at age 25. At the age of 14 she converted from Islam to Christianity.

Participants are asked to arrive by 5:45 p.m. for security reasons. The Consul General will be available for questions, and there will be opportunities afterward to write members of Congress and receive background material about the current conflict.

In New Orleans, where music is a way of life, that will be the community’s response. “Music Over Sirens: New Orleans Stands With Israel” will be a benefit concert at the Howlin’ Wolf at 8 p.m. on July 29.

There will be performances by Michael Pellera and Khari Lee, both of whom have taken part in musical exchanges to New Orleans’ Partnership2Gether community in Israel, Rosh Ha’Ayin. The most recent, in May, included a jazz festival in Rosh Ha’Ayin.

Pellera heads the jazz department at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where Lee is also in the jazz department.

Also performing will be Israeli musicians Itamar Borochov and Jonathan Greenstein. Borochov grew up in the integrated city of Jaffa where he developed a love for jazz, with Arab and pan-African influences. He moved to New York in 2006 to pursue the study of jazz. He tours with the Itamar Borochov Quartet, and is trumpet player, arranger and co-producer for Yemen Blues.

Greenstein is a native of Tel Aviv who released his debut album, “Thinking.” His 21st century approach to jazz includes influences of soul and hip-hop. He considers his music to be less Mediterranean influenced than Tel Aviv influenced as the New York City of Israel. He and Borochov performed together last month at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Attendees are asked for a suggested donation of $10, which will directly benefit the Jewish Federations of North America’s Stop the Sirens emergency campaign as well as providing relief for Kibbutz Kfar Gaza, a community in southern Israel which is repeatedly barraged by fire from Hamas.

Stop the Sirens is a collaboration of a wide network of Jewish social service organizations, which is providing respite breaks for children in the line of fire, trauma support, and direct infrastructure and emergency support to 13 communities hit hardest by the conflict.

The Jewish Community Day School in Metairie is collecting drawings, letters to children in Rosh Ha’Ayin and letters to IDF soldiers in a “New Orleans Children’s Letters to Israel Campaign.” Letters and drawings can be dropped off or sent to the school, and they will be sent to Israel as long as the school keeps receiving them. The first batch is scheduled to be sent on July 28.

Last week, students at Birmingham’s N.E. Miles Jewish Day School made posters to support a Day School alumnus, Asaf Stein, who is fighting with the Golani Brigade in Gaza. The students and parents then went to the Stein house to deliver the posters and show support. Asaf’s mother, Susan, teaches at the Day School.

Two days later, community members made cards at Knesseth Israel for wounded soldiers. KI Rabbi Eytan Yammer left for a week in Israel the next morning.

Other rallies have taken place in the region. Atlanta had about 500 split into competing rallies on July 25, with pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups on either side of Marietta Street outside CNN headquarters.

At the end of a pro-Palestinian rally in Atlanta on July 12, a Christian supporter of Israel was in a skirmish with about 30 pro-Palestinian protestors, the Atlanta Jewish News reported. Protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza have also taken place outside the Consulate offices.

For the July 25 pro-Israel rally, the Georgia Security Forces, members of 2 Million Bikers to DC and the Georgia Patriots Brigade were to be on hand to “use the Second Amendment to protect the First.” A group of bikers from Opelika planned to attend.

The Atlanta Federation hosted a rally on July 23 that drew about 1,000, including Mayor Kasim Reed.

The Nashville Jewish community held a rally at the Gordon Jewish Community Center on July 23, drawing several hundred to a standing room only event.

There have been a couple of peace protests in Nashville that, according to the Tennesseean, drew fewer than 100 participants each time.

In Huntsville, the Islamic Center held a candlelight vigil at Big Spring Park on July 25. The next morning they went to the “Peace Corner” to demonstrate with the North Alabama Peace Network, which has a history of anti-Israel activism.

Students for Justice in Palestine are planning a demonstration in New Orleans on Aug. 1. “A Streetcar Named Gaza” will take place starting at the Canal and Carrollton Streetcar stop at 7:30 p.m., gathering supporters along the route to Canal and Decatur. There, a walking vigil will begin at 8:30 p.m. and end at Mona’s CafĂ© on Frenchman.

Organizers say they will “incorporate the history of southern civil rights movements, the unique character of New Orleans, and the need to expose this conflict… This will be an experiment in radical occupation of public space, with the goal of uniting New Orleanians in solidarity for Palestine.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

Partnership city Rosh Ha'Ayin steps up to support troops
SJLMAGFriday, July 25, 2014

Photo by Ziv Parwar


As the war in Gaza continues, Rosh Ha’Ayin is taking part in supporting the soldiers as the city also deals with numerous Code Red alerts of incoming missiles.

Danny Shani, who chairs the Rosh Ha’Ayin-New Orleans Partnership, and his friend Ziv Parwar, have made trips to visit troops in the South and deliver goods to them.

Rosh Ha’Ayin is New Orleans’ Partnership2Gether community and Birmingham’s sister city in Israel.

On July 22 Shani and Parwar took 1,000 pairs of socks, 1,000 cans of drinks, ice cream, snacks and cakes from a Rosh Ha’Ayin bakery to the soldiers. They visited several units and also distributed shampoo, deodorant and soap to replenish supplies.

As noted in a post to the Partnership Facebook page, “The soldiers are tired but motivated to continue to defend Israel.”

One of the soldiers commented that he never though he’d “get an ice-cold Coke here, while fighting.”

Their final stop was to the unit of a friend’s son, but he had been injured shortly before their arrival and in fact they had unknowingly seen his ambulance to Soroka Hospital in Beersheva leaving as they arrived.

After distributing goods to that unit, Shani and Parwar went to Soroka to visit the soldier, who had inhaled smoke from a fire that had broken out at their position and had respiratory tract burns. “Luckily the injury is not severe and he hoping to return soon to his friends and continue the activity,” they reported.

Previously, the pair had raised funds for a July 11 trip where they brought pizzas and drinks, along with underwear. They raised over $15,000 for that trip, including a $2,000 allocation from the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and local leadership.

The food and beverages they distributed were purchased in Ofakim, a town in the southern part of Israel that has lived with incoming missiles and struggled economically due to the uncertainty. In what is likely an unintentional nod to the relationship with the Southern United States, many of the soft drinks were RC Cola.

Shani said “I was moved by the soldiers' reactions when we got there, they ran to us happy to get the food and drinks, but you could tell they were much happier about us caring for them. The hugs we got from the soldiers were our treat."

One of the volunteers who made the trip south noted that when he returned to Rosh Ha’Ayin there was a rocket attack. He heard the siren before he even got out of his car and dashed to his home’s shelter. “After about a minute a loud explosion sounded very close to the house.”

He started getting messages on WhatsApp, then started receiving pictures. There were sirens nearby as the fire department arrived in the area to extinguish the fire, which was not far from his house.

After 10 minutes he left the shelter. His home was not damaged and nobody in Rosh Ha’Ayin was hurt by the missile strike.

On July 17, it was reported that three Israelis were hurt that day trying to run to shelters, as well as a person in Rosh Ha’Ayin who was “hurt from panic.”

Donations for future Rosh Ha’Ayin trips to the troops are being collected online.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

NOLA Federation reports post-Katrina record campaign
SJLMAGThursday, July 24, 2014

The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans announced that the 2014 Annual Campaign set a post-Katrina record, bringing in $2,704,704.

The campaign was up $127,372 over the 2013 campaign, with 95 new gifts and 366 increased gifts.

The campaign was chaired by Brian Katz and Susan Good. Katz said he was “extremely proud to have helped this community to a post-Katrina record for the 2014 Campaign. The increase will allow greater support at a time when it is greatly needed locally, nationally and especially internationally.”

Good spoke about the dedication of the volunteers and said “We continued, as a community, to ‘Hit the Chai Note’ and by doing so made a difference in the lives of our fellow Jews here in New Orleans, in Israel and around the world.”

In February, the campaign Super Sunday that also brought in the most since the storm. On Feb. 9, $153,910 was raised, which was the highest since 2002.

While many communities have phased out Super Sunday phone-a-thons, New Orleans has stuck with it by popular demand. This year, there were 93 volunteers working the event.

The Federation also participated in the first GiveNOLA Day, where over 300 non-profits did online fundraising. The Federation came in 19th in funds raised, with $20,760.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vicksburg Jewish Cemetery application heading to National Register
SJLMAGWednesday, July 23, 2014

The Anshe Chesed cemetery in Vicksburg is one step closer to being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

On July 17, the Mississippi National Register Review Board approved the cemetery’s nomination. Paperwork now goes to the National Register, which will review it.

There will be a 30-day public comment period in the Federal Register, and if there are no issues the cemetery will be listed.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History anticipates a response by early September.

Vicksburg’s Jewish community is one of the earliest in the state, with 20 Jewish families living there in 1825. A Jewish cemetery was established, but its location remains unknown. The current cemetery was established in 1865. It is surrounded by the Vicksburg National Military Park.

According to local historian Julius Herscovici, the most likely reason for moving the original Jewish cemetery was bombardment and destruction of the previous site during the Civil War, but records have been lost. Many graves from the first cemetery were moved to the new cemetery.

The Grove Street site of the new cemetery was where a fierce battle took place during the war, and several markers detailing the battle are scattered throughout.

Four rabbis are buried there. Rabbi Bernard Gotthelf was a Union chaplain who was the first rabbi in Vicksburg. He died in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic. Rabbi Herman Bien had been found near death in 1893 in a Birmingham hotel after being turned down by Temple Emanu-El and already replaced in Vicksburg.

Rabbi Sol Kory, who died in 1936, brought together Anshe Chesed and a short-lived Orthodox congregation. Rabbi Adolf Philippsborn, who died in 1967, had escaped Nazi Germany.

A historic marker was placed at the cemetery in 1998, a gift of the Grundfest family.

The congregation’s current building is next to the cemetery’s entrance. It was built in the 1960s, as Anshe Chesed moved from downtown.

The community, which numbered as many as 467 in 1927, is now down to a couple dozen.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Birmingham students support local Israeli "Lone Soldier" fighting in Gaza
SJLMAGMonday, July 21, 2014

As the ground battle goes on in Gaza, students at Birmingham’s N.E. Miles Jewish Day School gathered to show their support of a Day School alumnus who is in the middle of the fight.

Corporal Asaf Stein, 29, is a member of the Golani Brigade. Born in Israel, he grew up in Birmingham and earned his doctorate in biomedicine from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Then he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces. (Photo, left, courtesy IDF)

“A lot of people ask me why a 29-year-old man would join the IDF,” Asaf said recently on the IDF blog. “I tell them I just wanted immigrate to Israel and join the army. They understand me.”

The son of Susan and Michael Stein, Asaf was home earlier this month for what was to a three-week visit, but his trip was cut short by the callup. He spoke to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces at The Temple in Atlanta on July 10, then had to return to Israel the next morning.

Susan Stein is a teacher at the Day School, and the students have rallied around the family.

This evening, a quickly-assembled group of Day School students assembled at the Bais Ariel Chabad Center to draw posters showing support for the Steins. Though it is the middle of the summer and many students are away, about two dozen came on a moment’s notice.

Michael Duvdevani said the evening was to “send a message to the Stein family that we as a community stand with them and support them.”

Asaf is what is referred to as a Lone Soldier, someone who serves in the IDF but who does not have any family in Israel. Lone Soldiers are paired with Israeli families for support, but for the soldier’s family abroad, there is no social structure supporting them emotionally as there is in Israel.

Duvdevani and Oren Azrad, a former Olympics swimmer for Israel now living in Birmingham, coordinated the event. Duvdevani explained that the evening was one of three initiatives that started this week. He set up a WhatsApp group, “Birmingham Supports Asaf.” He made Asaf a member of the group, though he will not see any of the messages until he returns from Gaza.

Duvdevani also said that many reservists were called up with no notice, so they had no time to prepare or bring anything. He started a fundraiser yesterday that would go toward buying essentials for the soldiers — toiletries, shampoo, underwear, socks — and by this evening $4500 had been contributed.

The donations were being put to immediate use. He said a friend in Israel was fronting funds so he could bring the supplies to soldiers tomorrow, and Duvdevani would reimburse him with the funds raised. They would be presented in the name of Chabad of Alabama, he said.

In 2008, Asaf was a counselor at a children’s camp in Nitzana through the Jewish Agency. That camp was established for children from Sderot and other communities near the border with Gaza, who have dealt with years of rocket threats and dashing to bomb shelters.

At the time, he told the Birmingham Jewish Federation "I am grateful I was able to participate in a program aimed at giving these children a break from constant danger, and showing them that they are not alone; and, that the rest of Israel and Jews from all over the world will support them.”

He volunteered in Israel in 2009, and decided to stop just visiting, setting a goal of becoming a soldier in a combat unit, though he was much older than most entering the IDF.

Through persistence, last July he was accepted into the Golani Brigade, one of 100 accepted out of 350 candidates. He told Israel Hayom that in a meeting with two high-ranking army commanders, they said that only four men close to his age had ever been selected to combat units. “So I’ll be the fifth,” he responded.

Ever since Asaf joined the IDF, the Birmingham Jewish community has been supporting its home-grown soldier.

For example, in December, Day School students sent Chanukah cards and raised money to buy sufganiot — Chanukah jelly doughnuts — for Asaf’s group.

After the students and parents finished making posters of support at Chabad, the group drove to the Stein house to show their support.

With all of the students on the porch, Duvdevani told the Steins “we are all thinking about you, thinking about Asaf… we’re so proud of what Asaf is doing.”

Susan Stein said what they needed most is “prayers and good wishes.”

Afterward, she said they last heard from Asaf on Wednesday morning, when he told them that he was given three minutes to talk, and then the military would be taking his phone until he returns.

“I’m going to be gone for a few days,” she recalled him saying. “We’re just praying” and getting very little sleep.

Michael Stein showed a photo of his son with a large rifle, which he said generally is given to the taller soldiers. Because he was so good at navigation, that is his current role, so he and a partner are out in front guiding fellow soldiers.

It is a tense time for soldiers’ families, with Israel trying to find and expose the smuggling tunnels used to hide armaments, protect Hamas leaders and infiltrate Israel. The tunnel entrances are generally hidden in civilian areas, and it is estimated that the tunnel network cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct.

Early Sunday morning, 13 members of the Golani were killed in the Hamas stronghold of Shejaiya, from where a large proportion of missiles had been launched at Israel. One of the casualties was Sean Carmeli, a Lone Soldier from South Padre Island, Tex.

Carmeli was buried in Haifa. With his parents on the way from Texas, the Maccabi Haifa soccer team put out a call to support the Lone Soldier by attending his funeral; the turnout was estimated at 18,000.

For Duvdevani, the current conflict also hits home. He grew up on Moshav Talmei Yosef, a couple of miles from the Gaza border. His parents and brother still live there. While there has been the threat of Hamas missiles for years, he noted that the moshav was the “second line” of communities from the border and somewhat removed from the infiltration threat posed by tunnels under the border.

His mother, Margaret Kartus Duvdevani, is a Birmingham native. In 2012, the Birmingham Jewish community worked with Operation Lifeshield to place a rocket shelter in the moshav.

(Margaret Kartus Duvdevani and Rabbi Shmuel Bowman of Operation Lifeshield at the moshav's shelter).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Israeli basketball star Casspi traded to New Orleans
SJLMAGMonday, July 14, 2014

Small forward Omri Casspi, who signed a two-year contract with the Houston Rockets last summer, is heading across Interstate 10 to New Orleans, where he will fill a need in that position.

In a move that was confirmed last night, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in what is being seen as a surprise move. Houston coach Kevin McHale said he was caught by surprise.

The first Israeli-born player in the National Basketball Association, Casspi was traded to New Orleans in a three-team deal. Turkish center Omer Asik also goes to New Orleans, and the Pelicans will receive $1.5 million.

The Pelicans send Houston a protected first-round draft pick in 2015, along with the unguaranteed contracts of Scotty Hopson and Alonzo Gee, while the Pelicans send the unguaranteed contract of Melvin Ely to the Washington Wizards. The Wizards agreed to a sign-and-trade of Trevor Ariza to the Rockets.

The three teams have signed papers for the trades, but the league has to give final approval.

Casspi, who is 6-foot-9, began his career with the Sacramento Kings and averaged 10.6 points per game. After two years in Sacramento he signed with Cleveland, where he played for two years.

Last year, his only season in Houston, he had 6.9 points per game with 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He did not play in the first round of the playoffs, where Houston lost to the Portland Trailblazers.

In Houston, Casspi was active with the Jewish community, speaking at Jewish schools and working with the Israeli Consulate there to have an “Israel Night with the Houston Rockets” in January.

When he arrived in Houston last fall, he told the Jewish Herald-Voice that “When our public relations asked what kind of community service I wanted to do, the first thing I said was I wanted to go the Jewish schools,” Casspi said. “These kids are really awesome.

“I’m trying to be the best role model I can be, but I’m not really thinking about it. I’m just trying to be the best guy I can be and the best player on the court I can be.”

Casspi is expected to rejoin Israel’s national team for next month’s EuroBasket qualifiers. Matches against Montenegro, Bulgaria and the Netherlands are scheduled for mid-August.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reflections of a Birminghamian living in Israel
SJLMAGThursday, July 10, 2014

By Shaina Shealy

Special to Southern Jewish Life



On Sunday, July 6, four days after the bodies of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were found outside of Jerusalem, I attended my first course of the summer semester at Hebrew University, where I’m completing a Masters Degree in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. The course covers inter-communal relations in Jerusalem, a topic that regularly puzzles, fascinates and angers me.

In the first 20 minutes of class, my classmates and I introduced ourselves with our names and a comparison between our hometowns and Jerusalem.

“My name is Jia-li, and I come from the Szechwan province, where it is hot in the summers like it is now in Jerusalem.”

“My name is Roberto, and I come from San Juan, which is a walled city resembling Jerusalem.”

“My name is Jackie, and I come from Boston, where historic architecture is all around like it is in Jerusalem.”

I was the last person in the room to share.

“My name is Shaina…”

My voice was unexpectedly shaky.

“I grew up in Birmingham, a city known for its history of racism and hate crimes. Today, systemic racism and segregation in the public sphere in Birmingham exist. I did not interact with African Americans other than grocery-store clerks, maintenance workers, house cleaners and ‘nannies’ until I was in high school. I joined dialogue groups and workshops to talk about race, and made black friends who were afraid to come to parties at my house because they did not want to be stopped by the police in an all-white neighborhood. I ventured to neighborhoods that I was told not to go to. I became comfortable with the discomfort of being in a place where I am different and comfortable with the discomfort of being in a place where everyone is just like me.”

I was almost in tears at the end. I did not have to explain how my hometown was similar to Jerusalem.

Two weeks ago, I moved from an apartment in Nachlaot to a Palestinian neighborhood. Nachlaot is in West Jerusalem. Its residents wear high-waisted jeans picked from the racks of trendy vintage stores, American Apparel leggings (the kind of thing to stock up on when moving to Israel from the U.S.) and old leather backpacks. They are hip Jewish-Israeli artists, students and young professionals.

I moved to a Palestinian neighborhood to practice my Arabic and experience a different space of the city. My new apartment is a 15-minute walk from my old one and it feels like it’s in a separate country. Even the pavement on the streets is different.

The day that the boys’ bodies were found in Hebron, I was in the library until evening, multitasking between writing final papers and reading the news. When I got to my apartment, I squeezed through barricades of soldiers to reach my front door. I found my roommates packing overnight bags. Neither of them — a Palestinian-American and a Dane — felt safe staying in the apartment. We shared updates from our Facebook newsfeeds and the op-eds we had read. I listened to the Palestinian-American’s accounts of the situation in Gaza and Hebron. We left the apartment and headed in different directions — I walked back to Nachlaot, my old neighborhood.

Ten minutes later, I was on Jaffo Street in the city center. A mob of pre-teens emerged from an alley shouting "death to Arabs,” followed by police on horses. Young girls wearing Israeli flags laid down in front of the horses while the teens ran in the streets with sticks in their hands, cheering and shouting like they were at a football game. I started crying. I followed the mob, and watched them surround two small Arab boys against the wall of a shop. The police were gone. The boys sprinted away as fast as they could. The mob cheered.

I arrived at my friend’s house in Nachlaot and plopped down on his leather couch next to others just like me. They had gathered to comfort one another in face of the day’s painful news. The conversation vacillated between things like the health benefits of sprouted grains and how only a society of animals could celebrate something so brutal as the murder of children. I was too shaken to say anything. My 15-minute walk from neighborhood to neighborhood illuminated the separateness of the multiple realities being lived by Jerusalem’s inhabitants. These realities are divided by vast gaps, but have been built right on top of each other.

The next day, the body of Muhammed Abu Khadier was found. Another tragedy. In spite of warnings from friends, family and Israeli security, I went to Muhammed Abu Khadier’s mourning tent in Shuafat, a 15-minute walk from my university’s campus. I thought about the 15 minutes it took for me to get from Mountain Brook to Ensley — going there was the only way to bridge the gap.

Visiting Muhammed Abu Khadier’s family was sad and uncomfortable and important.

The severity of the conflict has escalated. People in Jerusalem are scared; people in Tel Aviv are scared; people in Gaza are scared; I am scared. What does this violence mean for the future of the families around me? These days have been a painful time for Jews and for Palestinians.

Today, a Muslim-American friend asked if I wanted to meet up for dinner in a place that feels mutually safe. I laughed to myself.
I responded over text message, “LOL yes!”

And then, “Sorry, not funny... just feeling confused about where that place is supposed to be.”

I am embarrassed to admit this: when I walk the streets of Jerusalem my heart remembers driving around Birmingham. It remembers being conflicted, torn and confused about where I’m supposed to be. It remembers the dialogue groups I participated in in high school — Anytown Alabama, Heritage Panel and PEACE Birmingham — that positioned me to see individuals beyond their homophobia or evangelical conviction that I was eternally dammed.

In Birmingham, I learned that trying to bridge gaps can curb violence and fear; I learned how to speak and think in I instead of we and they; I learned that no one has exclusive ownership of the truth. Is it naive to think that teaching our children to communicate — to think — could make the world more livable?

I thank you all for sending your prayers — please, continue to do so. But more importantly, let’s talk.

Reflections of an immigrant to Israel from New Orleans
SJLMAGThursday, July 10, 2014

By Katie Connell

Special to Southern Jewish Life

Editor’s note: Katie Connell made aliyah from New Orleans one year ago and settled in Beer Sheva in the Negev. She currently lives in an absorption center for new immigrants. This originally appeared in the weekly e-news of Shir Chadash in Metairie.

A few days ago, on a beautiful afternoon I was driving in Be'er Sheva and pulled to a stop at an intersection across from the shopping mall. Simultaneously, as I heard Code Red sirens, one of the people in the car with me slowly said "why are those people running.” I have heard these sirens before during a drill, but this time it was real.

I turned to my right, the driver of the car next to me rolled down the window with a look of terror in his eyes and said in Hebrew: "Sirens, those are sirens! Pull off to the side and get out!" With sirens still going, there is a hard explosion directly above us.

At that moment, I remembered what to do if you are in a car and there is a rocket attack. I realized that I am in a potential bomb if the Iron Dome failed. I hit the accelerator, pulled the car over and commanded everyone to get out and get down on the side. People all over were doing the same, lying down on the pavement as the second rocket is intercepted by the Iron Dome.

I looked around in a fuzzy, surreal blur. The faint smell of firework-like smoke jolted me into reality. After a few minutes, all of the people looked at each other with the realization that it was beginning: The recent kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah and the revenge kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, followed by riots all around Israel had finally escalated into a war.

This was how it began for me. Since July 9 (two days before this was written), over 320 rockets have been shot into Israel from Gaza, 50 just since this morning. There have been many sirens, and I have heard and felt the shaking of the Iron Done intercepting the rockets. My sleep has been interrupted in the last three nights, all around 2 a.m., with sirens and explosions.

A feeling of tension is all over the country with rockets reaching as far as north central Israel, terrorists trying to infiltrate from the sea and by parachute, and for the first time, here in the south, Bedouins throwing fire bombs and rocks at cars. As Israel prepares for what looks like a ground invasion, the end is not yet near.

More and more I realize how incredibly complex the political situation is here, and now it is personal. It doesn't matter if you are politically on the right or the left. ALL human life is precious and can add value to the world.

With that said, Hamas (whose name means "Islamic Resistance Movement") has declared itself to be a Sunni fundamentalist Islamic movement with the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of the state of Israel. They establish jihad (holy war) as the only means of solving the issue of Palestine, and establish that the commandment of jihad is an individual religious duty incumbent upon every Muslim. They refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish State.

In short, Hamas is a particular group of people that want to annihilate us. Hamas does not want peace. They want us out of the Land of Israel. This is something that people all around the world need to understand.

Israel is going to extreme measures to reduce the risk of collateral damage and loss of innocent life, as well as bringing in humanitarian aid, food, medicine, and fuel to the residents of Gaza. However, Israel needs to put a stop to the attacks and any further escalation buy defending itself.

What is the historical reality, the reality today is that Israel is home for the Jews. People flee and are rescued from countries, such as Yemen, in which their lives are in danger due to anti-Semitism. They are taken to safety here in Israel.

Some of my friends here in the absorption center, recently rescued from Yemen, have been through so much already. Traumatized as their husbands and fathers have been murdered, daughters and sisters kidnapped and sold as wives, taken to Israel with nothing, now standing outside of the bomb shelter crying waiting for the next siren. It's heartbreaking. When does it end for them? Jews should be able to take refuge and be safe in Israel.

I just had my one-year anniversary. I came to Israel for a more meaningful life by helping to contribute the best I can to its development. The potential here is amazing, and I am part of this history.

People may think that I am crazy for wanting to live here, and are wondering if I want to come back to the U.S. The answer is absolutely not. The rockets and terror reinforce how important it is to have a strong Jewish presence here.

Pray for our soldiers, pray for peace — Am Yisrael Chai.

P.S. Code Red siren while typing this: Two Rockets.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Florida rabbi finds owners of 7 tefillin sets discovered at Scottsboro's Unclaimed Baggage
SJLMAGTuesday, July 08, 2014

Two sets of tefillin the Pilichowskis found at Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Ala. (Photo courtesy Rabbi Uri Pilichowski)


When Rabbi Uri Pilichowski and family stopped in Scottsboro at the Unclaimed Baggage Center on July 2, it was just another interesting place to see on their cross-country adventure.

It quickly turned into much more than that for the Boca Raton, Fla., family, as they found seven pairs of tefillin, setting off an Internet odyssey to return the sets to their owners.

Unclaimed Baggage purchases truckloads of suitcases from airlines, rental car companies and unclaimed cargo after the respective carriers have exhausted all avenues to return the lost items to their owners. The items are sold at the north Alabama store, and unsold items generally wind up going to charitable organizations.

Pilichowski’s wife, Aliza, had read about the store and figured it would be an interesting place to visit. They were driving from Baltimore to visit her sister in Memphis, and Scottsboro “was only slightly out of the way,” he said.

Four years ago, they set a goal of visiting all 50 states by the time their daughter Avigayil graduated from high school. Since then they had moved from California, where he was assistant rabbi at Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, to Florida, where he was at Boca Raton Synagogue and started an Israel advocacy group for high school students.

At the start of this summer they had been to 35 states — and had taken Alaska and Hawaii out of the challenge. With their decision to move to Israel later this summer, “it put a rush on our plans” to hit the remainder of the Lower 48, and they set out from Oregon to Maine before heading back to Florida.

Pilichowski said his wife found the sets of tefillin, which were marked at $45 each. “She immediately started crying” because she was sad to see them unclaimed. She quickly called him over to see what she had discovered.

He noted that in Jewish law there is a prohibition on turning away from a lost item, and a commandment to try and return items to their owners.

“We bought them all,” he said, and they quickly took pictures in the store and posted their find on Facebook, with “HELP! HELP! HELP!… We found Tefilin!!! People are missing their tefilin! Please share this entire post.”

That post was shared over 1700 times, and within a day, six of the seven sets had been claimed.

The name “Abie Malka” was on two pairs of the tefillin, so Pilichowski contacted Yossi Malka, a fellow counselor from several years back at a Passover camp in Ukraine.

Yossi Malka confirmed that they were indeed his oldest son’s, having been given to him by his grandfather, Dovid, shortly before his passing in 2011, in anticipation of Abie’s Bar Mitzvah. They became lost in Charlotte, N.C., on a Passover trip to Cancun.

Dovid Malka of Crown Heights was a chef for the Lubavitcher rebbe and Oholei Torah.

When they were lost, Yossi Malka explained to the New York Daily News, “it was devastating. I did not want to share it with the rest of my family.” He even returned to the Charlotte airport to search the lost-and-found.

Though six pairs were identified quickly, the last pair proved more challenging. It was the only one that did not have a name or initials.

According to VIN News, an Israeli man whose daughter is friends with the Pilichowskis reposted the story on Facebook and then set out to find the owner.

A sticker on the tefillin indicated they had been checked at a store in Holon, so Ami Mintzer contacted the store’s owner, who found the sofer who had checked the tefillin. He was able to verify that they belonged to Emilion Maimon of Bat Yam, whose suitcase was lost while traveling from Mexico to Denver last December.

In all, two pairs belonged to Israelis, the Malka sets went to Los Angeles and the others were reunited with owners in New York.

In a post reflecting on the odyssey, Pilichowski said “After a tragic week, in which our people collectively sat in mourning over three kedoshim, the speed in which the owners were found speaks not only to the power of crowdsourcing, but to the importance of following God’s commands, the resilience of our people, and our nation’s ability to come together in good times and bad.”

He added, “Thousands participated in this mitzvah, and it is a tribute to them that the owners were found.”

After leaving Memphis on July 8, the Pilichowskis headed back to Boca to get ready for their Nefesh B’Nefesh flight to Israel — with one more stop in Scottsboro.

“No more tefillin” on the return visit, he said. But “they knew what we were talking about this time.” Anyone who wants to look for sets of tefillin in the future should check the jewelry department, he added.

Because they are moving to Israel, this will likely be his last time through Scottsboro.

A set of tefillin “is more than a purchase, it’s sentimental value,” he said. “If you got it for your Bar Mitzvah, that’s your Bar Mitzvah pair.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Attempts to reconcile: Southern Presbyterian churches reach out to Jewish community following divestment vote
SJLMAGThursday, July 03, 2014

The vote by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest itself from holdings in companies they say profit from Israel’s administration of the territories has caused a great deal of concern in the Jewish community — and among the rank and file of PCUSA.

The 310-303 vote, held at the PCUSA General Assembly in Detroit last month, calls on the church to divest its holdings in Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, because those firms are said to profit from Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians.

Jewish groups across the spectrum condemned the vote as counterproductive and an unfair singling out of Israel among all nations of the world as it attempts to protect itself from terrorist actions. Presbyterian officials countered that many Jews in attendance favored the move, but they were actually from a far-left fringe group.

Over 1700 rabbis from all 50 states had signed an open letter to PCUSA calling on them to reject this move.

Rev. Elizabeth Goodrich, clerk of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley in central Alabama, wrote that “this action is not divestment from Israel, as it is often described, but rather divestment from specific companies who have shown no interest in dialogue with the PCUSA about their business practices.” She noted that “PCUSA is explicit in affirming the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign nation and advocating for the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, free from the threat of violence.”

Rev. Ed Hurley of South Highlands Presbyterian Church in Birmingham stated that the vote “overturns the will of the last four General Assemblies which repeatedly rejected divestment in favor of investing in positive peace-promoting businesses in Palestinian territories, an effort that has produced significant positive results.”

The first of those four General Assemblies was in Birmingham in 2006, when a group of churches from Mississippi helped spearhead opposition to a similar divestment move that had been made in 2004.

Hurley wrote that “this action deeply wounds the Jewish community worldwide including our neighbors at Temple Emanu-El and Temple Beth-El… (and) at least one family member of SHPC members who works for Hewlett-Packard, a company now deemed unworthy of being underwritten by Presbyterian funds.”

The Saturday after the vote, Hurley visited Emanu-El and spoke briefly about the vote. The following day, Judy and Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Emanu-El attended the service at South Highlands.

Hurley and Rev. Conrad Sharps of Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham issued a statement that they “deeply regret” the vote and believe it “removes our voice, the voice of our Church as an unbiased mediator and spiritual witness to the suffering on all sides of the conflict” by placing “the blame on the stalemate on one side only, Israel, without a fuller and more meaningful appreciation of the complexities involved and the responsibilities that all parties have in the ongoing nature of this conflict.”

Also on the Presbyterian agenda at the General Assembly was a measure that did not pass — changing the language in hymnals so that the term “Israel” is not used or is referred to as ancient Israel. Instead, there was the recommendation of having a sticker placed on hymnals to explain that when Israel is mentioned, such as “God’s covenant with Israel,” it refers to ancient Israel and not the modern-day state.

Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn of Temple Sinai in New Orleans said he received an immediate call after the vote from Rev. Don Frampton of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, “who was terribly embarrassed and disheartened by this decision of his denomination.” They agreed to hold a program at Sinai for both congregations on July 8 at 6:30 p.m. The event will be a potluck supper and the community is invited. After dinner, Cohn and Frampton will discuss what happened, “share our hearts and thoughts… and where we should go from here in our interfaith dialogue.”

In its weekly bulletin, Temple Emanu-El in Dothan noted their congregation’s “good relationship with Evergreen Presbyterian Church” and that “Rev. Joseph Johnson does not agree with the vote.” He contacted Emanu-El and volunteered to speak to the congregation, which he will do at Shabbat services on July 11 at 7 p.m.

Conversely, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke of Louisiana praised the Presbyterian move against “the ultra-racist, Jewish supremacist, murderous, ethnic cleansing, terrorist state of Israel.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Southern communities join in mourning the three murdered Israeli teens
SJLMAGTuesday, July 01, 2014

Israeli flag at half staff outside the Jewish Community Center in Austin.

With the discovery of the bodies of three missing Israeli teens, planned vigils have turned into memorial services.

The Israeli Consulate in Atlanta stated “we are heartbroken to report the senseless killings of the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Sha'ar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, z"l, who were kidnapped near their school on June 12” by Palestinian terrorists presumed to be aligned with Hamas.

Their bodies were found in a field near Hebron on June 30. The discovery set off a wave of mourning throughout Israel and worldwide.

Numerous groups immediately issued statements of solidarity, and even the United Nations Security Council expressed “profound outrage” at the murder.

Frenkel was a dual citizen of Israel and the United States.

The Israeli consulate, Atlanta Rabbinical Association and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta are holding “a demonstration of solidarity and support” with a memorial service at Ahavath Achim, July 2 at 6:30 p.m.

The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans was “devastated” to hear about the murders. “The abduction and murder of these three is a vile act of terrorism.”

In a statement, the New Orleans Federation said “People everywhere have prayed in hope, because every child counts. Today we stand united in expressing our outrage, in sending our sympathy to the families and in expressing our hope for peace and security for children everywhere and in the Middle East.”

A vigil had already been planned for July 2 at 7 p.m. at the Uptown Jewish Community Center in New Orleans, it will now be a #PeaceForOurBoys memorial. Attendees will light memorial candles for the boys.

Rabbi Ethan Linden, president of the Rabbinic Council of Greater New Orleans, and Brenda Brasher, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council, will speak. Their organizations are planning the event.

Cantor Joel Colman of Temple Sinai will also speak. His son, Josh Colman, is a soldier in the Israel Defense Force.

“Our community is deeply saddened by the murder of these three teenagers,” said Linden “We condemn those responsible for the act itself, and we condemn those who would attempt to justify this horrific crime by reference to Israeli policies. We reject the culture of violence and vengeance that inspired this taking of innocent life, and we stand by our brothers and sisters in Israel as they mourn the loss of these children. We hope and pray for peace.”

“This is not about politics,” noted Brasher. “This is about innocent lives. It’s an issue of human compassion and a concern for the balance of peace and justice in the wake of unimaginable grief.”

In Birmingham, the Hillel at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is coordinating a candle prayer vigil on July 2 at 6 p.m., on the Campus Green off University Boulevard between Heritage Hall and the recreation center. Rabbi Randall Konigsburg of Temple Beth-El will speak.

The Birmingham Jewish Federation expressed its “profound grief and sadness,” and said “This is a time for the Jewish world to stand together, not only with these three families, but with the entire State of Israel in unity, solidarity and sadness.”

The leadership of Temple Beth-El stated the congregation “mourns with the entire state of Israel the death of the three teens” and prays “for a time when all people, men, women, and children, will be able to ‘sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to make him afraid’ (Micah 4:4).”

Birmingham’s Jewish community had held a service for the boys on June 22, while they were still missing. Rabbi Eytan Yammer of Knesseth Israel, who organized the event with all of the local congregations, said that evening he had felt the “love of a unified Jewish world calling out to their creator.”

Though the unity now turns to mourning, Yammer said “I am still filled with hope. That the unity of Am Yisrael is not broken by the murder of our sons, that we find times to gather once more, at times of hope, at times of loss and, with God's help at times of great celebration.”

Huntsville’s Jewish community will be joined by local Christians and Muslims for a memorial service on July 2 at 7 p.m., at Temple B’nai Sholom. Aladin Beshir, a NASA scientist, will offer prayers for peace from the Islamic tradition.

Beshir told al.com that “"This is a funeral in my neighbor's house, and regardless of whether we agree, disagree on occupation, these are neighbors who are mourning… Any bloodshed — any drop of blood shed, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist — it doesn't matter — is prohibited.”

Rabbi Scott Kramer of Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem in Montgomery said in light of the news, “I am afraid of what is now going to happen in light of the danger posed by ISIS having its sights against Jordan and now this. I pray for Israel and I send comfort to the families of these three boys. I can only hope that our boys and girls in arms will protect our land and our people and calmer heads prevail as we search for the ever disappearing "better angels of our nature.”

In Houston, the community will hold a memorial service on July 2 at 6 p.m., at Beth Yeshurun.

Memphis will hold a memorial service on July 7 at 5:30 p.m., at the Jewish Community Center, and Nashville held a service on July 1 at their JCC.

On July 2 it was reported that a Palestinian youth had been found murdered in Jerusalem. While it is unclear if it was in revenge or a non-related criminal act, the murder was swiftly condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, along with a wide range of Jewish organizations and family members of the three slain Israeli teens.

Israel Defense Forces are reporting that it likely was an "honor struggle" within the family, as the victim's brother had been taken in a similar fashion the week before, and family members are being interrogated.