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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Birthright’

Technologically Speaking

Friday, May 4th, 2012

I watch in wonder as four teenagers grab chairs around a table at a local café. They seem to be friends, or at least fond acquaintances, all joining together for a ten-day Birthright tour of Israel. I watch these boys from a balcony above, and I observe that immediately upon sitting down, three of the four boys at the table proceed to reach for their laptops. The fourth boy didn’t seem to have one with him and attached himself to his friend’s laptop. They immediately logged into their Facebook accounts and spent the remainder of their meal connecting to friends in their respective countries. I found out later that this was their first night in Israel, so they must have been telling their friends about their trip since arrival. I would have been okay with this had this activity lasted ten maybe fifteen minutes, but it lasted the entire time these boys sat at the café together.

At the next table sat a couple who appeared to be dating or even possibly engaged. The girl spent her entire time at the table looking at her Blackberry and oblivious to the gentleman sitting across from her. Nothing this poor man could say or do could sway her attention even one iota from her much more enticing technological device. For a while during the dinner, he too took out his Blackberry and did some texting of his own. It would have been nice had they been texting each other. Unfortunately, it is far more likely they were sitting directly across from each other, yet completely absorbed in their own world, texting other people. They finished their meal, paid the bill, left the table, and walked out of the café without her looking up once. I was amazed to see how she did this without tripping down the stairs on the way out.

Two completely different groups of people at a popular Israeli café, yet both demonstrated something in common. People have abandoned the art of face-to-face communication in favor of the presumably more exciting art of communicating over devices. It is sad to consider that if we keep going in this direction, the art of face-to face communication could become completely lost on the next generation. People will simply forget how to carry on a normal and basic conversation – for lack of practice.

Some of the older couples at the café still appeared to be communicating with each other, but for the younger crowd, many of them may not even have noticed if half of their dinner mates got up and left the table. I fear the loss of face-to-face communication skills, as there is almost nothing as healing and cathartic as a face-to-face discussion with a friend. A friend who physically shows you compassion and empathy through his/her facial expressions, eye contact and gestures, and provides important guidance and advice if need be. A friend who hears you out, so you come away feeling heard. This feeling deepens connection between people.

The act of sitting across from someone and sharing thoughts, ideas, and experiences about life is nourishment for the soul – yet it may just be gone in a few decades. In fact, museums in fifty to one hundred years may have a “human communication exhibit” in which they show how human communication has progressed throughout the ages. The centuries up to and including the twentieth century will be called, “The Era of Face-to-Face Communication.” The twenty first century will be dubbed, “The Era of Electronic Communication,” whereby people primarily communicate via computers, cell phones and the like. How sad will it be for future generations who, at the rate we are going, will likely lose the fine art of non-electronic communication. How will people do basic tasks such as interviewing, meeting in-laws for the first time, returning an item to a department store, or sitting at a table of strangers at a wedding? Maybe they won’t. Maybe all of these interactions will be converted to electronic ones and everything will happen through a device. Maybe you won’t need to have that first awkward meeting with your in-laws because you’ll just type a few friendly greetings on your iPad and attach a photo of yourself; Telemedicine, or the practice of having your medical exams done via a computer to a doctor who is many miles away, will replace traditional medicine, and interviewing for a job will be done via a video hook-up without you ever having to leave the confines of your home.

Living in America in 2012, this all still sounds a bit far-fetched. But maybe one day this will be a reality. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not belittling technological advancement. I know we all benefit tremendously from these advances in every area of our lives – from medicine to education to the day-to-day running of our homes. But if social networks are supposed to connect people, why are people feeling more alienated and lonely than ever before? In midst of all the electronic communicating we are engaged in, many of us come away dissatisfied and discontented. We crave the basic eye contact we once enjoyed with our good friends, the upturn of a smile, the warm embrace, the shoulder to cry on when things got tough, and the high-five or tender hug of congratulations when the news was good.

Secrets of Israeli Success Revealed in New Documentary

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

A new feature-length documentary starring one of Harvard University’s all-time most popular professors reveals the secret components of Israel’s success as an international leader in innovation and humanitarianism.

Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference stars Tal Ben-Shahar, former Harvard University professor of Positive Psychology, who left his post as the lecturer of the formidable institution’s most popular course to return to Israel with his family.  In the film, produced by JerusalemOnlineU.com, Ben-Shahar breaks down and analyzes the five unique characteristics he says have combined to give Israel its unusually high level of national actualization.

Though Israel is populated by just over 7 million people, it is the third highest represented nation on the New York Stock Exchange, and is considered a world leader in science and technology advancement.  Through the course of the film, Ben-Shahar takes the viewer on a journey to discover what unique mix of factors or “actualizers” have contributed to this fact, and to the success of Israel as a nation of innovation.

“None of these actualizers are in and of themselves unique to Israel,” Ben-Shahar says. “But in combination, they are bringing about an almost unparalleled progress and success and contribution to the world.”  The factors explored in the film are family, turning adversity into advantage, “chutzpah”, education, taking action, and the Jewish drive to do “tikkun olam” – repairing the world.

“What we need to communicate about Israel is that it goes far, far beyond ‘the conflict’, Ben-Shahar told Jewish Press’ Yishai Fleisher.  “Yes, we’re in the midst of a conflict, and at the same time we’re also a thriving nation, we’re able to do wonderful, amazing things for ourselves as well as for the world.  Our contribution to other nations, to our global village, is disproportionate to our size, and especially commendable given our geopolitical situation.”

The film features numerous projects related to giving, development, and increasing quality of life for Jews and non-Jews in Israel and around the world in the areas of science, environment, medicine, and technology, and includes interviews with Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO of electric vehicle service provider Better Place, Naty Barak, CEO and Head of Sustainable Development at micro-irrigation solutions company Netafim Industries, Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, Tamar Jehuda-Cohen, Founder and CTO of Smart Biotech, historian Sir Martin Gilbert, Birthright founder Michael Steinhardt, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and others.

JerusalemOnlineU.com is an online portal for Jewish distance learning offering courses in the basics of Judaism, Israeli history, Positive Psychology, Cinema, and Jewish concepts.

Since leaving Harvard, Tal Ben-Shahar teaches at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herziliya. He is the author of international best sellers Happier and Being Happy, which have been translated into 25 languauges.

 

Tiny Steps Towards a Big Goal

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Often, when I return home to Israel after a speaking tour in North America, I am asked by my Israeli friends: “Nu, did you get people to make Aliyah?”

I explain that I prefer not to talk much about Aliyah while I am abroad. I try to get Jews to reawaken their love for the homeland, connect with the life in Israel and I find that the issue of Aliyah often distances my audience. Though I am a firm believer in the in-gathering of the exiles, when I speak to Jews around the world, I am trying to bridge worlds, not drive them apart.

Indeed, the biggest schism  in the Jewish world today is the great Atlantic Divide. Six million Jews live in North America, and six million live across the ocean in Israel. The Jewish nation exists in worlds apart: One attends Liberal Arts colleges, the other fights in the army; one speaks English, the other Hebrew; they read different books and watch different TV shows. The Jewish people’s geographic and cultural divide can easily become an unbridgeable gap.

North American Jews are concerned and have taken real steps to bridge the Atlantic Divide through one-year Yeshiva programs in Israel, gap year studies in Israeli universties, internship programs, and, of course, Birthright-Israel, the amazing project that has changed the lives of tens of thousands young Jews.

But still, it’s not enough. 80% of North American Jews have never been to Israel, and most Israelis have no connection to American Jewish life. That is why Israelis, people like outspoken author A.B. Yehoshua, are worried about their North American Jewish brothers and sisters. Israelis are afraid to lose their American family to assimilation, and they are afraid of growing apart.

While A.B. Yehoshua may be right about the problem, his recent harsh words (in which he calls American Jews “partial Jews” for not living in Israel) do not help much. There are no partial Jews, we are a family, a tribe, a nation, and we simply cannot allow our people to become disconnected. We should never talk down to Jews, we should talk up, inspire, and heal. To bring the family together, you need to talk in the language of love.

And you also need vision. Our people need a star to guide us toward one goal that will eventually bring us back together.

What is this vision?

The vision of a rebuilt Jerusalem is one which our people have shared ever since we were dispossessed of our land 2,000 years ago. From Addis Ababa to LA, from Kabul to Vienna, our people have always proclaimed “Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem!” No matter where we are on the globe, no matter our persecution or comfort, we have had only one homeland and one capital to which our heart has belonged.

To foster that vision, and to make it applicable in our lives, we need to get behind the idea of mass Aliyah.

“But wait?? Didn’t you just tell us not to  preach Aliyah because it’s divisive?”

Let me explain: There is the grand ideal of making Aliyah, that is, moving to Israel, and that issue may be divisive. But the word “Aliyah” in Hebrew also refers to the process of going up and there are many steps in the staircase before you get to the landing. And that is exactly what we have to do – take steps towards our united goal with each step being a mini-Aliyah. Those steps can be big or small, but they are steps nonetheless. Deciding to drink only Israeli wine on Shabbat is a type of Aliyah. Putting up a poster of Jerusalem in your house, or a flag, is a type of Aliyah. Sending your kids on Birthright, or to studies in Israel is an Aliyah. Buying real-estate in Israel is definitely an Aliyah.

Aliyah means that we, as a nation, take whatever steps we can towards Jewish unity by recognizing the centrality of Israel in our national life.

And here is another example of mini-Aliyah which is very pertinent in this season:

If you have the budget to vacation this Passover, you certainly have many wonderful alternatives to choose from around the world -

“Celebrate Passover at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. Rich in tradition and excellence.”

“The Best Passover Vacations Under the Sun are in Mexico, Arizona and Florida. Glatt Kosher.”

“5 Deluxe Passover Resorts – in Florida, New York, Arizona & Italy with Leisure Time Tours.”

“Magical Passover 2012 Vacation in Orlando, Florida at the Luxurious Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld.”

These are great places, no doubt, and I totally understand the need to take one’s few precious vacation days and get away from the stress. However, your Passover vacation is also an opportunity to make a mini-Aliyah with your family and to arrive at the international Passover hub – Jerusalem. The term Aliyah actually comes from the concept of going up to Jerusalem three times a year during the Festivals, so coming to Israel on Passover is definitely an Aliyah!

Nothing shows our values as a nation more then the way we celebrate the Holiday of Freedom. When we choose Jerusalem over Orlando we strengthen the bond of brotherhood within the Jewish Nation, our core values shine through, and our children imbibe it. The world, too, notices when we put Jerusalem ahead of other destinations and it strengthens our nation’s claim to the land.

So this year, let us start making Aliyah as a nation, lets bridge the great Atlantic Divide, and let us make good on what we said at last year’s Seder: “Next year in Jerusalem”.

Jewish Mega-Philanthropist Backing Gingrich, Drawing Critique

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Republican US presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s relationship with Jewish megabillionaire and foremost donor Sheldon Adelson has raised the ire of critics, who say Gingrich’s very public support for Israel is an exchange for support.

Gingrich reiterated his belief that the Palestinians are an “invented” people at a CNN Republican debate in Florida ahead of Tuesday’s primary, promising to issue an executive order moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in accordance with a law passed by Congress in 1995 which has been waived by every US President since.

View statements to the Republican Jewish Coalition in June 2011 by Gingrich, posted by his campaign on YouTube:

At the time the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which stated that “”Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem” as an “undivided city”, was passed, Gingrich was Speaker of the House of Representatives. It was during that tenure that Gingrich met Sheldon Adelson, wealthy casino resort magnate and staunch advocate for Israel.  To assist in promoting the law, Adelson arrived in Washington to talk to leaders about the matter on Capitol Hill.  Gingrich introduced the legislation, and Adelson and Gingrich’s relationship grew.  Ultimately Adelson became a big sponsor of the work Gingrich did prior to his candidacy, and then the foremost supporter of the campaign itself.

Adelson, who grew up as the son of poor Ukrainian Jewish immigrants to Boston, scratched his way to the top in business, first selling toiletries and ultimately becoming owner of 3 successful Las Vegas casino hotel s and convention centers, as well as contracts for casinos in Macau and Singapore.  He is now the 8th wealthiest person in the United States, according to Forbes’ most recent ranking, behind George Soros and ahead of Jim Walton.

Since making his billions, Adelson has earned a name as a pre-eminent Jewish philanthropist, giving $100 million to the Birthright Jewish identity-building project taking youth on trips to Israel, $25 million to the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial in Israel, and donated a new headquarters to the Israel lobby in Washington, AIPAC, despite his reservations that the organization is overly pro-Palestinian.  Adelson is against a two-state solution which would give the Palestinian Authority control over lands historically belonging to the Jewish people, and has supported Gingrich’s remarks on the subject of Palestinian nationhood.

Adelson also started the free daily newspaper distributed in major Israeli cities called Israel HaYom (Israel Today), which espouses views leaning more toward Likud than Labor.

Adelson’s wife, Miriam, is an Israeli-born doctor specializing in the treatment of addictions.  Together, they have opened treatment centers in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv.  The pair have made many of their contributions in tandem, with Miriam donating $5 million of the $10 million the couple have thus-far given to Gingrich’s campaign.

While media speculations that Gingrich’s pro-Israel outlook was bought by Adelson, Gingrich told the Associated Press that he has only promised Adelson to “seek to defend the United States and United States allies,” with Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton Klein telling the AP that Gingrich has been known as “one of the few politicians who has had the courage to tell the truth about Israel,” saying that is probably why they formed a relationship.

As for himself, Adelson says that his support for Gingrich comes from an interest in helping his friend win.  “Our means of support might be more than others are able to offer,” Adelson said, “but like most Americans, words such as friendship and loyalty still mean something to us.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/jewish-mega-philanthropist-backing-gingrich-drawing-critique/2012/01/27/

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