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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Birthright’

Birthright May Double its Numbers, Plus Encourage Hi-Tech Aliyah

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Question: What’s Blue and White even though it’s on fire?  Answer:  The participants of most Birthright programs.

Approximately 350,000 Jews from across the globe have gone on the 10-day all expenses paid Birthright trip to Israel since the program started in 2000.

For some reason, the people who crafted the Birthright-Taglit program 13 years ago pretty much got it right.  Research shows that young Jews who go on Birthright trips are:

  • 46 percent more likely to feel very much connected to Israel than their counterparts who applied but did not go, and the Taglit effect was greatest among participants from relatively weaker Jewish backgrounds.
  • 28 percent more likely to report feeling very confident in their ability to explain Israel’s current situation than their counterparts who did not go.
  • 51 percent more likely to marry a Jewish person.
  • 28 percent more likely to rate marrying a Jew as somewhat or very important

The program is so popular that each year the program receives approximately 35,000 applications for about 20,500 spots.

But over this past year, according to a report in Haaretz, Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office, the Jewish Agency, and Jewish leaders, have developed a plan to further strengthen ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities.

Jewish Agency Director-General Alan Hoffmann said the plan to increase those ties is based on four key components: Expanding Israeli presence on university campuses abroad; increasing the number of Israeli educators in Jewish institutions abroad; increasing the number of young immigrants in professions deemed required for the Israeli economy; and increasing participation of young Jewish adults in Israel experience programs.

While the new plan won’t be officially announced until October at a conference in Jerusalem, Hoffman divulged that one of the goals is to eliminate the long waiting list for Birthright trips.

For the 2013 Birthright program, 11,862 applicants were unable to participate because of budgetary restrictions. For the 2012 program, more than 17,000 were turned away.

According to Hoffmann, the new plan also includes providing special incentives for young high-tech professionals to immigrate to Israel.

“Looking at the Israeli economy over next 10-15 years, one of the inhibiting factors is that in some of the most successful areas, including high-tech, we are not generating enough trained people to meet the expanding needs of the economy,” Hoffmann told Haaretz.

The new initiative is expected to begin as a pilot program sometime in early 2014, and become fully operational in 2015.

The cost is estimated at $300 million, which will be financed much like the present Birthright program: Israel covers one-third of the expenses and donors cover the rest.

Six Boys Discover Tefillin for First Time on Flight to Israel

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Chabad rabbis who had boarded a flight from the Ukraine to Israel via Moscow convinced six boys going on a Birthright Israel program to wear tefillin for the first time in their lives.

“How would you like to put on tefillin now? We can’t think of a better preparation for going to the Holy Land,” the rabbis said, according to the Chabad website.

They added, “It took some time, and a lot of explaining, but within the hour we had ten teenagers putting on tefillin, six of them for the very first time.”

One boy said it was the first time in his life he had ever prayed.

Adelson: From Caricature to Life

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

In the interests of full disclosure, let me first offer that Sheldon Adelson and members of his family donated to my campaign for Congress when I ran last year (yes, I know I lost. But ‘Shmuley for President 2016’ is just three years away). Furthermore, as was widely reported, he and his wife Miriam donated to an independent Super Pac that backed my candidacy.

In addition, on June 4th in Times Square the organization of which I am Executive Director, This World: The Values Network, together with Rambam hospital in Haifa — one of the Middle East’s largest and most respected medical campuses — will be hosting an International Champions of Jewish Values Awards Gala. The honorees are some of the world’s most distinguished individuals, with Nobel Laureate (and my personal hero and mentor) Prof. Elie Wiesel being given the “Champion of Jewish Spirit” award, and my friend Dr. Mehmet Oz, the world’s most famous physician, being recognized as “Champion of Human life.” The award for “Champions of Jewish Identity” will go to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson who are being recognized for their vast contributions to Jewish identity worldwide.
Having offered that disclosure, I was happy to see that, as part of Adelson’s recent testimony in a breach of contract lawsuit filed by a former consultant, people were finally able to see the human being that lies behind the caricature.

 On the witness stand, Adelson was humorous, engaging, relaxed, endearing, and utterly himself.  “Even successful companies and wealthy people are entitled to justice,” he said, referring to his reasoning behind taking the stand in his own defense.  His testimony included affable one-liners that could have easily been mistaken for a late night talk show’s opening monologue.  “I came from the other side of the tracks,” he quipped.  “In fact, I came from so far on the other side, I didn’t know the tracks existed.” And again, “I would have been a rags-to-riches story, except my parents couldn’t afford the rags … So I’m a less-than-rags-to-riches story.”

Those of us who know Sheldon have always been amazed at how he is depicted by some in the media as a mean-spirited, heartless mogul pulling political strings and throwing his weight in campaigns in order to elect lawmakers who favor lower taxes.

That fraudulent caricature overlooks the true essence of a man who is one of the world’s most generous benefactors of charitable causes and one of the foremost Jewish philanthropists of all time.  The media neglect to mention that Adelson contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to programs such as Birthright Israel ($180 million), the Adelson Educational Campus ($80 million), Holocaust memory ($50 million to Yad Vashem), and Hebrew Senior Life in Boston ($20 million).

Adelson founded and supports the Adelson Drug Rehabilitation Clinics in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv, run by his wife, a highly respected authority in addiction medicine. Together, Sheldon and Miriam have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to approximately 200 scientists from nearly 70 medical research institutions via the Adelson Medical Foundation, with many of the scientists having lauded their financial support as having changed the ways in which medical research is conducted.  And this is just a snapshot of his charitable giving.

Sheldon and Miriam regularly welcome America’s “Wounded Warriors” for “Salute our Troops” stays at the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in Las Vegas.  The soldiers and their spouses are flown in and provided with weekend accommodations and VIP treatment in recognition of their service and sacrifice.

As a Rabbi I am particularly grateful to the Adelsons for the gargantuan sums they contribute toward programs that foster Jewish identity among the world’s Jewish youth, like Birthright Israel, and I write this column because, although people can strongly disagree with Sheldon’s politics, those of us working in the Jewish community should give thanks to those who love the Jewish people and dedicate their fortunes to seeing an ancient people survive and prosper.

I have twice led Birthright groups to Israel. The program is near miraculous. No people on earth offer its youth a free ten-day trip to an ancestral homeland so that they can soak in their ancient history and values. But without the Adelsons, Birthright would be offering the trip to just a fraction of the more than 350,000 who have already attended.

Yet, in spite of it all the world’s perception of Sheldon Adelson seems mostly shaped by his campaign contributions to the Republican Party. Even the 50,000 jobs he has created thorough Las Vegas Sands has not blighted the concerted assault on his name as he has been depicted as a GOP money man with little regard for the destitute or the poor. But if his agenda is, as some critics say, to hold on to his money, how does that explain the hundreds of millions he continually gives to charity? Could the explanation possibly be that he believes, with other Americans, that private philanthropy is more effective at solving social problems than government bureaucracies? Could it be that his promotion of conservative fiscal policies echoes, as a man who is self-made and whose father drove a cab, a belief in the dignity that comes from personal endeavor and self-reliance? Might it not be possible that he is one who believes that we all seek personal, financial, and spiritual redemption, although we prefer that it come first and foremost through our own devices? And even if people disagree with those conclusions and harbor a markedly different political philosophy, does he deserve to be hated for those principles?

Adelson is also condemned for his strong support of Israel and the more conservative policies of the Netanyahu government. But I too am an advocate of great caution in Israel’s relationship with its neighbors. As a Jew my Torah teaches me, as its first principle, that every Palestinian and Arab, like every Jew, is created in the divine image. We are all equally God’s children. But I share the conviction that Israel’s many attempts at peace and territorial concessions have led, not to an end of conflict, but tragically to dead Jews and a never-ending stream of rockets fired at Israeli hospitals and schools.

Let us also not forget that Adelson criticized many of the social values of the Republican Party (just as I did throughout my campaign) before it became fashionable to do so.

As someone involved in Jewish communal and public affairs, who has advised him to be more proactive in responding to media distortions (as a world-renowned Jewish philanthropist he owes it both to himself and the Jewish community), I have had the opportunity to get to know Adelson on a personal and professional level. Above all is his commitment to family. Here is a man who chose to have two sons at a later age when most men of his wealth are basking in their success on yachts and villas along the French Riviera.

But as a child of divorce perhaps what leads me to most respect Sheldon is the steadfast love and respect on display for his wife at all times. Indeed, in his testimony many of his witticisms were about how much he obeys his wife. When Judge Rob Bare, instructed Adelson to “do one thing at a time” and focus on the line of questioning while refraining from taking notes on the stand, his response was, “Your honor, I think you have something in common with my wife.  She doesn’t want me to do two things at once.”

In a world where many men who make fortunes find it difficult to sustain a commitment to a woman, it’s inspiring to see a billionaire who believes his foremost achievement is his marriage to his wife.

Atheist Birthright Founder and Rabbi Buchwald to Do Battle

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

The “Mother of All Debates” will take place next Tuesday at the National Jewish Outreach Program’s  (NJOP) 25th anniversary dinner next Tuesday at New York’s St. Regis Hotel.

The debate, which features the question of the future of Jewish continuity, will be moderated by renowned lecturer, author and thinker Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

“We have agreed to disagree on stage, in public… which may be explosive!” said Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald.

“We do not see eye to eye on many issues, but we both have a deep, unshakable belief in and commitment to the future of Jewish continuity. It will be equal parts honor and thrill to share the spotlight with Mr. (Michael) Steinhardt,” he said.

The debaters will address issues ranging from the efficacy of modern-day programs intended to engage Jews, such as Steinhardt’s Birthright and Rabbi Buchwald’s Shabbat Across America, to how the American Jewish community will look 50 years from now.

The audience is restricted to “invitation only” and will include both supporters of Steinhardt and Jewish Outreach and local Jewish community leaders.

“It was with great urgency that we founded NJOP 25 years ago,” Buchwald stated. “The entire unaffiliated American Jewish community was at risk of vanishing. Thank God, we have reached many of them, but the challenges we still face are daunting.“

He established NJOP in 1987 in response to the spiraling losses of Jews from Jewish life due to assimilation and lack of Jewish knowledge.

NJOP sponsors Shabbat Across America/Canada and the Read Hebrew America/Canada campaigns, establishes “Beginners Services” and offers the Turn Friday Night Into Shabbat, Passover Across America and Sukkot Across America programs, Holiday Workshops, as well as free “Crash Courses” in Hebrew Reading, Basic Judaism and Jewish History.

Rabbi Buchwald was a student of Rabbi Dr. JosephB. Soloveitchik at Yeshiva University, where he was ordained, and he served from 1973 for 15 years as the Director of Education at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York.

Newsweek has listed him as on of America’s “top 50 rabbis” the last three years.

Steinhardt made a fortune as a hedge fund manager, financier, investor and newspaper publisher, and he is a philanthropist to Jewish causes.

He has been critical of non-Orthodox Jewish life and has charged that the Reform Judaism and Conservative movements have done “a poor job under-educating our next generations” by failing to distinguish Jewish values from Christian values.

Steinhardt also has asserted that that educators spend too much energy and time on the Holocaust to raise the flag of anti-Semitism in the United States, where he thinks is much less than believed.

The emphasis on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism detracts “from our ability to think about the Jewish future – because it’s hard to be focused intensively on the Holocaust and, at the same time, to think about what we want to accomplish and what we want to be in the 21st Century,” he said in an interview with Shalom TV three years ago.

Steinhardt has defined himself as an atheist but supports Jewish cultural identity.

The Diaspora “is a moribund Jewish world, continuously losing its young people, whose tzedakah has dramatically changed where only a small fraction of total philanthropy is going to Jewish causes; interest in Israel is declining; the number of American Jews going to Israel is not growing; where the culmination of Jewish life seems to be (for the young person) the bar mitzvah – and from there it is all downhill,” he added in the interview.

He founded the Birthright program, which sends young people to Israel for their first visit. Steinhardt has called Israel a “substitute for religion” but mourns the atmosphere in Israel, claiming it often is “easier to be a Zionist in Manhattan that in Tel Aviv.

However, he added, “I could forgive almost anything vis-à-vis Israel. Israel was and still is my Jewish miracle!”

His autobiography, “No Bull: My Life in and out of Markets,” notes his father, Sol Frank Steinhardt, who also was known as “Red McGee.”

“Red” Steinhardt was convicted in 1958 on two counts of buying and selling stolen jewelry, and was sentenced to serve two 5-to-10 year terms.

Sheldon Adelson’s Casino Reaching Deal with Feds on Money-Laundering

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Federal prosecutors and pro-Israel Republican stalwart Sheldon Adelson’s casino company Las Vegas Sands Corp. may have come to an understanding on issues pertaining to money-laundering laws allegedly violated in the cases of two criminal high-rollers, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Lawyers for the Sands and federal prosecutors met on Thursday after the Sands failed to obtain a dismissal.  Prosecutors threatened to charge the Sands and a company executive with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Now, the prosecution may indeed drop the case, with the Sands paying a fine and updating regulations on handling customer money.

Sands representatives stated that the casino was cooperating with federal investigations and denied any wrongdoing.

Las Vegas Sands was investigated when it allegedly failed to report a potentially suspicious financial transaction by two wealthy gamblers to the federal government.  The two apparently worked millions of dollars in “dirty” money through the accounts of the casino operator.  The cases hinge on whether it was possible for executives of the Sands to know that the money could have come from illegal activities, and whether they should have had reasonable enough suspicion to alert law enforcement.

One, Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese citizen with a Mexican pharmaceutical factory, was charged in 2007 with manufacturing a component of methamphetamine, during which time evidence showed he had spent over $100 million at Las Vegas casinos.  Charges against him were later dropped by federal prosecutors.  But the case raised concerns over whether the Sands failed to report deposits made by a suspicious person.

For their part, the Sands said it performed due diligence measures to ensure the cleanliness of the money, even hiring a private investigator to determine whether Ye Gon was legitimate.

The second case, of former Fry’s Electronics executive and admitted 2009 kickback schemer Ausaf Umar Siddiqui, who made major transactions at the Sands despite an apparent history of being unable to pay gambling debts.

The Sands is also being investigated regarding alleged bribes paid overseas.  The company has maintained its innocence.

Adelson, owner of the Sands, is also the owner of the Israel HaYom newspaper, has contributed over $100 million to the Birthright Israel project to connect Jewish youth to their roots through his family foundation, and is married to an Israeli physician, Miriam Ochsorn.

School Resumes, Pro-Israel Advocates Get Busy

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

As students prepare for the new academic year, the campus Israel community is stocking up with new ideas for attracting participants, as well as using some tried-and-true approaches from past years. Israel advocates face the challenge of creating techniques that focus on retaining old students and recruiting new ones who have yet to become active on campus.

Many pro-Israel groups see the first month of school as a crucial period—a small window of time in which they must draw students to their cause. They focus much of their efforts on students who have demonstrated interest by visiting Israel recently.

At the University of Texas at Austin, Tracy Frydberg, a sophomore who serves as vice president of Texans for Israel (TFI), said, “At the beginning of the school year, TFI will contact any student who went on Birthright or other trips to Israel, talk to them about their experience and find ways for them to stay involved.”

At Penn State, sophomore vice president of Penn State Israel Alliance (PSIA) , Melissa Saks, said, “It is critical to branch out to those students who have visited Israel over the summer, especially at the beginning of the semester, because they are still on that ‘Israel high’ and really feel compelled to be involved with helping Israel.”

However, not all students have been to Israel and advocates must find ways to make Zionism and the Jewish state appealing to them.

Some activists plan to work with like-minded campus groups that can help them reach large new audiences. At the University of Nevada at Reno, junior Elliot Malin described an environment in which he and other pro-Israel students seek “to reach out to a larger group this year by doing more events with Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

“Since our Jewish population is so small,” Malin said, “we figured if we can engage with another energized group we can be more successful. We want to diversify the leadership to get those who aren’t as involved more involved.”

Reaching out to students in the 21st century involves a mix of traditional and innovative approaches. Many campus Israel groups use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to highlight their activities. PSIA has embraced another technology — television — to spread their message. They have crossed into relatively new territory by appearing on their University’s news channel. With approximately 40,000 undergraduate students on Penn State’s campus, the university channel provides an easy and effective way to reach a broad segment of the student population.

Advocates at schools without a university news channel can still reach a large and diverse student body during the activities fair; a day early in the semester when every club on campus is allowed to set up shop at a table and display materials, pamphlets and other unique club attributes to campus.

Nonetheless, sometimes the most effective pitch for advocates to give is a simple, face-to-face discussion.

“I hope to sit down over coffee with as many people that I can and find them specific roles and jobs within TFI to keep them excited and engaged for the rest of the school year,” said UT’s Frydberg.

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

Fledgling Israel Lacrosse 2-0 in European Championships

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Israel’s lacrosse team – which did not exist just two years ago – is dazzling the world of sports, defeating Slovakia and France in recent matches to stand 2-0 in its first-ever European Championships.

On Thursday, Israel defeated number 17 ranked Slovakia 11-8, and then number 27 ranked France in a drenching rain on Friday.

On Sunday, Israel faces number 24 ranked Norway.

Israel Lacrosse was founded by Scott Neiss who came to Israel for the first time on Birthright in 2010.  He made aliyah to Tel Aviv and decided to bring his passion for the sport to his new home.

So smitten was Neiss with Israel during his trip, and so ardent a lacrosse enthusiast, that he conducted research on bringing lacrosse to Israel during the early days of his tour, ultimately sneaking away from his group to rendezvous with Israeli contacts given to him by his own connections at the international lacrosse federation.

The team is comprised of 43 men from teams in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as Jewish players from other countries.  The team was given official recognition by the Ministry of Culture and Sports and permission to represent the state at the European Championships in Amsterdam.  It is coached by another immigrant from the United States, Bill Beroza, member of the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Israel Lacrosse is organizing clubs dedicated to the sport across the country to encourage youth to play.  According to an interview done with Haaretz, Neiss said the clinics are always conducted in Hebrew, even though a large number of the new devotees come from English-speaking families.  “If we’re speaking English, the question Israelis ask is ‘Who are these crazy Americans?’  If we’re speaking Hebrew, the question is ‘What is this sport?’” Neiss told Haaretz.

A women’s team is also in the works.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports/fledgling-israel-lacrosse-2-0-in-european-championships/2012/06/24/

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