New update from Israel

We’ve all seen it in newsreels or movies, or in our mind’s eye as we read or hear tales of the Holocaust recounted.  The transport pulling up at Auschwitz, the barking dogs and shouting SS along the siding, the doors sliding open and the frightened faces within.  That image came into my mind as yesterday I watched the doors of the bus pull up, the cheering, singing throngs of people at its side, the doors opening, and the exuberant faces within.  What a differenceMedinat Yisrael makes!  I stood watching as the first bus from the French Aliyah flight arrived from the plane to the hangar at Ben Gurion where the opening ceremony was to be held.  I didn’t feel my eyes welling up, just the wetness of the tears as they streamed down my cheeks.  Hundreds of Israelis gathered around for no apparent reason—not just friends and relatives of the olim with a reason to be there—just people who were supercharged to welcome Israel’s newest citizens.  Teenagers with their Youth movements.  The class of new Agency shlichim that will leave Israel shortly for their work abroad. The band belting out Heveinu Shalom Aleichem and Gesher Tzar Meod.  The dancing, the embraces, the quiet acts of offering a bottle of water to a tired olah, the cameras held high to get a shot, and the olim reaching in front of themselves to capture their selfies.


I watched as Jerusalem’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar made a blessing -beracha over sweetened Shabbat bread - challot, and with the words Blessed are you Lord, our God that brings us to this moment of joy - Baruch Shehecheyanu v’Kiyemanu v’Higiyanu lazeman hazeh hanging in the air, sent the challot through the crowd for the immigrants to get their first taste of the sweetness of this land.  I was seated next to a couple—he wearing a kippah and she pants and no hair covering.  His arm reached behind his wife, pulling her close the way couples do when they are sharing a moment of joy—witnessing the fulfillment of their dreams.  When the challah started working its way through seats to our left, she jumped up and chased it—to bring pieces back for her to share with him.


Rav Amar spoke of the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz that begins in the morning, and the three weeks of sadness until Tisha B’Av, the day that marks the destruction of the holy Temple.  He related how our tradition teaches that in the time of redemption, when the Messiah comes, this time of sadness will become one of joy.  He spoke of how, at this moment, on the eve of a period of sadness, this incredible moment of joy points the way to redemption.  If the Temple was destroyed by Sin’at Chinam, baseless hatred, here, I listened attentively to Rabbi Amar, who didn’t need to point out that I was witnessing and partaking of Ahavat Chinam, baseless, boundless love. 


I marveled at the difference between this country—wildly embracing its newcomers—and America, which (laying aside the politics of the moment) has always received its immigrants with deep ambivalence.  Instead of op-eds and talking heads debating immigration policy, I found myself at a wedding celebration, where this marvelous land betrothed itself to its beloved new citizens.  As I watched Natan Sharansky dance with the Minister of Aliyah and Klitah, Sofa Landver, I couldn’t help but wonder at what it must mean to them, so many years after they each achieved their dream of against the laws of an evil soviet regime, marrying themselves to Eretz Yisrael.  The chairman of the Jewish Agency dancing with the Minister of Aliyah—the father and mother of the bride?


Mazal Tov to you too!  I’m sorry you couldn’t be here in person, but check out some video and pictures, because you helped make this wedding! The people of Israel live! Am Yisrael chai!


Ariel Commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day with Special Delegation

Ministry of Education regional officials commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day in a unique way this week – by visiting Ariel and the Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Museum.

Mayor Eliyahu Shaviro led the tour of some 130 officials on Monday, taking them to see the sights in Ariel and on a special tour of the Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Museum – the lifelong project of Irena and Yaakov (Kuba) Wodislavsky (z”l) , of blessed memory.

The Museum has become the focal point of Ariel’s Holocaust education program, which provides each middle-school student in Ariel with the opportunity to become a museum guide.

“Ariel has made remembering the Holocaust an educational goal,” Shaviro stated.

“We all know that young generation will be the last generation to meet Holocaust survivors in person, and we therefore are teaching them how to transmit the lessons of the Holocaust to the generations which follow.”

“We in Ariel support the Holocaust and Heroism Museum as ironclad landmarks for the city, and we view it as a site of national importance,” he continued.

“I thank the regional branch of the Ministry of Education for choosing to visit Ariel as part of their enrichment activities for Holocaust Memorial Day.”

The tour itself included both attending the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony of Ariel’s ORT high school, held at the Ariel Regional Center for the Performing Arts (ARCPA), and attending a special film screening and roundtable discussion overseen by Irena.

Happy Purim! A Day of Giving and Receiving with New Olim

As Jewish communities around the world are celebrating Purim, so are the many thousands of beneficiaries of the programs of The Jewish Agency.

It will be a very special Purim for the new olim for whom it will be the first time they celebrate it in Israel with all the immense fanfare that entails – parades, the streets filled with children in costume, the radio constantly playing holidays songs, while for some coming from remote communities, it will be the first time entirely.

You may find this surprising, but Purim is considered by many as the most holy Jewish holiday. It is believed that when the Messiah comes, all holidays will no longer be needed.

All, except for Purim.

The reason being, that Purim isn’t meant to simply mark a historic g-d given event and teach us its lesson, rather it is meant to teach us that what is most important, most basic and enduring, is our faith in g-d and our unity as people. It is believed that the salvation that took place on Purim, the reversal of fate from complete annihilation to salvation and strength,  didn’t derive from the prayers or actions of Queen Esther or her uncle Mordechai, rather from the fact that the Jewish communities, spread all across the exile of the Persian empire, were united as one in faith and prayer. Realizing the most fundamental commandants of loving g-d and loving your fellow man. And so the traditions of Purim – reminding us of the reversal (hence the costumes) are so full or righteous, faith filled and caring deeds – praying, reading the story, giving Tzedakah (charity) to the poor and Mishloach Manot (food care packages) to one another.

Hence, this tradition of unity is central in all our programming. Last week I visited our Etzion Campus in Jerusalem where 257 young adults make their first steps in Israeli society. All came alone to Israel and face many uncertainties and hardships. Yet, they were excited to lead a special tradition of giving, and prepared beautiful Mishloach Manot for lone olim soldiers. While they gave, they also received. As Israeli high school students and the staff of the Jewish Agency joined to make a surprise visit to them and give them Mishloach Manot. They were excited and thankful, that while they hardly know anyone in the country, people so cared about them.

Important to note that while we serve some 5,000 lone young olim annually, due to lack of funding we have at this very time 700 young adults on waiting lists, hoping to make Aliyah while joining these programs. That is why your support is so critical and we thank you for it!

 To give you a small glimpse into who these brave young people are, I am enclosing a picture of Shimon and Dana (center of photo).

Shimon is a 25 year old architects who made Aliyah from Mexico. He is so driven that he is choosing to volunteer to the army for a full service although he is exempt. As he speaks 5 languages, he hopes to serve in intelligence. When asked why he made Aliyah, he says “To put it in one sentence, so I can join in the building of Israel”.

Dana is a 23 year old economist from Moscow. She grew up attending the Jewish day school and going to Jewish summer camp. She feels she received so much and debated what would be the proper way to give back? To stay in Moscow or move to Israel? Her lack of faith in the regime led to her finally making the tough decision to come to Israel. Here she hopes she can give back.  

Thank you for all that you do for Israel and the Jewish people and we look forward to seeing you soon!

Happy Purim!

#ArielHolidayGiving: Hanukkah Edition

American Friends of Ariel is proud to introduce the #ArielHolidayGiving program.

Join our annual giving program to accompany Ariel throughout the holiday seasons around the Jewish calendar.

  • For the High Holidays and Sukkot (throughout October 2016), fund one of our newer projects, the Ariel Student Village. The Ariel Student Village, like the Sukkot holiday, draws residents from across Ariel together. In this program, students from outside Ariel (or even outside Israel) lend a hand to help in dozens of projects in Ariel’s pioneering neighborhood, including helping residents in need, assisting the elderly, and tutoring students from disadvantaged backgrounds – as well as running festive programming throughout the year.
  • Hanukkah (December 25, 2016 – January 1,2017) celebrates the combination of two miracles: the victory of the Jewish Maccabee army over the ancient Greeks in the Land of Israel, and the ability of Jewish education to survive Hellenism (symbolized through light). We, too, seek to honor these initiatives – by funding Higher Education scholarships for discharged soldiers.
  • Purim (March 12-13, 2017) is a holiday of high drama – and you, too, can support our Art and Culture programs in Ariel to continue the Arts among city youth.
  • Passover (April 10-18, 2017) brings Jews together around the world to discuss the past and celebrate our freedom. For decades, we have funded Community Passover Seders to help those who cannot afford to make the traditional meal on their own.
  • Millions of Israelis commemorate Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day (April 24, 2017) by attending local Holocaust museums nationwide. We in Ariel offer a fully human connection to the Holocaust through the hard work of Irena and Yaakov (Kuba) Wodislavsky (z”l) – the curators of the Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Museum. Irena runs the museum free of charge and is closely involved with local schools.
  • Israel celebrates three days of patriotism throughout the year: Memorial DayIndependence Day, and Jerusalem Day (May 1-2, May 24, 2017). Help honor the founders of Ariel and their tireless efforts to bring Jews back to the Samarian heartland by supporting the Ariel Pioneers Museum and Ron Nachman Legacy Center.
  • Shavuot (Pentecost) (May 31, 2017) celebrates Jews receiving the Torah, or Bible, from Moses and accepting its teachings. To continue that tradition for future generations, we have provided funding for Bar and Bat Mitzvah Training for decades.
  • The Ninth of Av, or Tisha B’av, (August 1, 2017) commemorates  the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. Help us support synagogue expansion and construction programs to rebuild and strengthen Jewish life.

Each donation makes a big difference – come be a building block for the Ariel community!

Save the Date!

Our Annual Memorial Ceremony for Ariel's founding mayor, Mayor Ron Nachman ob"m, will be held this year on February 2, 2017 at the Ariel Pioneers Museum and Ron Nachman Legacy Center. 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will also be in attendance as he renames Ariel's main road in Ron Nachman's honor. 

Save the date!

Ariel's Hidden Gem: the Ariel Young Adult Center

Ariel’s Young Adult Center opened early in 2016 to a grand ceremony and media coverage. 

Nine months later, we sat down this week with the Center’s Director, Shir Avikassis-Arbiv, to see how the institution has evolved.

“The Young Adults Center is a relatively new concept in Israel – it’s the 11th year of [the franchise’s] operation,” Shir began. “The Center specifically caters to ‘young adults’ – ages 18-35.”

“In Ariel there was a very strong demand for such a place and we had to push hard for it to be built,” she added, noting that with the help of American Friends of Ariel, “we managed to get a special donation just for the building itself.”

In practice, Shir says, “we work here with young adults in three different spheres.”

“The first is social involvement and community – connecting people, creating a sense of shared space – and for that, right now we’re looking to make a Young Adults’ Board, a youth parliament, which would bring to our attention all of the issues young adults face here in Ariel in the public sphere.”

“The second is the entrepreneurship sphere – which we established in a partnership with Ariel University and Dr. Eleonora Shkolnick – which include demonstrations and workshops we host here [in conjunction with the Field Center for Entrepreneurship – ed.]. […] the general public is invited to participate in lectures about entrepreneurship.”

“The last sphere is what we would call the Life sphere: everything that’s connected to life in general between these ages [between 18-35 – ed.], from recently released IDF soldiers or even high school graduates who finished army service or school […] to young parenthood.”

But Shir’s focus, for the time being, is on young mothers.

“I simply know from my own personal experience at home – I don’t have kids yet, but I know a lot of people who do – that during maternity leave, when you are on the biggest high, you’re also the most alone – you’re sitting at home when often your friends and family are at work or school,” she said. “So the idea is to give some space for new mothers to breathe, but also to allow them to spend some quality time with their children.”

To that end, the Young Adult Center launches its new “Mommies” program this week, for young mothers currently on Israel’s mandatory maternity leave.

“They can come here – there will be a certified Child Development expert who’s running the program – and we’re hoping to have 5 meetings.”

Shir, for her part, says that the Center has become a meeting place for all walks of life.

“I get to meet a lot of people – people of all types and varieties, not even from Ariel, but also from visiting delegations.”

“You see everything – you see mothers with their children outside at the playground [next door – ed.], and fathers too; you see people looking for places to sit and work; and people volunteering their time for their own reasons.”

Ariel residents are enthusiastic about giving their time, she added. Some 90% of the workshops given at the Center are free contributions from volunteers.

“We also had someone who volunteered to give tours for free, we have a doctor who’s giving lectures for new parents for free …. you see the best of people here. It’s very special.”

Nazareth Baptist School Making a Difference in the Holy Land

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    Nazareth Baptist School is busy serving Jesus not only in the Saviors hometown but also around the world.   1)      The children are preparing food and making crafts to sell.  The proceeds will go to support the less fortunate in Nazareth. They also plan on sending financial help to refugees in Greece (from Muslim background who came to know Jesus).   2)      The Parent committee will hold a Christmas evangelistic outreach for the community to hear the Gospel.

Nazareth Baptist School is busy serving Jesus not only in the Saviors hometown but also around the world.

1)   The children are preparing food and making crafts to sell.  The proceeds will go to support the less fortunate in Nazareth. They also plan on sending financial help to refugees in Greece (from Muslim background who came to know Jesus).

2)   The Parent committee will hold a Christmas evangelistic outreach for the community to hear the Gospel.

Please pray for the safety of Israel and Jerusalem


Israel is ablaze with dozens of fires raging, tens of thousands of civilians evacuated and huge damage to entire neighborhoods and forests.

At the Jewish Agency, members of the national emergency authority and are on high alert.

Two absorption centers are located in Haifa where the most intense fires are raging. All staff are on premises and the olim have turned off the gas and prepared their belongings for a quick departure if needed.

Hope for Ishmael update

Hope for Ishmael founder, Tass Saada, and his daughter Farah, would like to update you on what is going on with their organization, and how you can help this life changing ministry to continue to make an impact on the people they serve.

In order to continue to keep all of their projects operating and continue to Plant Hope in the Holy Land, they need to raise $150,000 by year end.