Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Follow Leigha on her #DigitalIsrael Adventure

Federation’s PR and Social Media Associate, Leigha Silberman, will be embarking on #DigitalIsrael - a 10-day Birthright trip for social media and digital communications professionals. Follow her adventures as she explores Israel’s ‘Start Up Nation’, tours wineries to learn how digital media has transformed the industry, and goes inside hi-tech and media companies to discover some of Israel’s best digital communications practices.

Leigha departs on Dec. 25th and will be blogging about her experience while on the trip of a lifetime! Follow her 10-day adventure and see a side of Israel that you haven’t seen before.

To view her blog directly visit: http://leighasilberman.tumblr.com

Monday, December 29, 2014

SDSU Jewish Studies Program Update

It has been a wonderful year with many exciting classes and community programs. As 2014 draws to a close, we hope you will keep our Program in mind. With the new semester approaching, we look forward to the following events:

Our Spring lecture series "Israel in the 21st Century: New Hopes, New Challenges,"featuring noted scholars: Dr. Mark A. Heller, Principal Research Associate at theInstitute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv; Dr. Mohammed Wattad,Assistant Professor at Zefat College's School of Law in Israel, a legal scholarspecializing in issues surrounding war, torture and terrorism and a former legal clerk at the Supreme Court of Israel; and Dr. David Makovsky, Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute and Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process, an adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry on the Middle East.

Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition, curated by our very own Program Director,Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, opening March 10, 2015 at The California Science Center in Los Angeles. This traveling exhibition, different in content and design than the San Diego show of 2007, opened in New York City in 2011 and has been on display in Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City. The exhibition features over 600 objects, including ten Dead Sea Scrolls and is the largest collection of Israeli archaeological artifacts ever exhibited outside of Israel. 

A special musical event featuring Artist in Residence, Yale Strom, who will be performing with some of Southern California's finest musicians in a program exploring the connection between Latin rhythms and Jewish song.

"Muslims & Jews in Modern Cinema," a fascinating and timely new class taught by Visiting Israeli Professor, Dr. Sariel Birnbaum.

Over the past thirty years, the Jewish Studies Program at SDSU has touched the lives of innumerable students and members of the San Diego community­ by providing an important resource for the study of Israel, the Jewish people, their history and contemporary circumstances.

We are committed to continuing this proud tradition. Your generosity supports our efforts and helps to ensure that we remain able to develop new courses, pursue original research, and provide thought-provoking public lectures, programs and outreach to the community.

Friday, December 26, 2014

NextGen Rocks the Andaz with Place2Be

Jewish young adults from throughout San Diego celebrated Christmas Eve in style this year at NextGen’s annual Place2Be Party at the beautiful Andaz’s Wine Bar and Nightclub in downtown San Diego. More than 300 attendees enjoyed a night of mingling, dancing, food and drink - in lieu of the typical Christmas Eve Chinese food. It wasn't all just fun and games - Place2Be also raised more than $2,000 for local homeless shelters, the people of Israel, and poor Jews suffering in Ukraine.

The event was hosted by NextGen’s social committee with help from partner organizations including: Center for Jewish Culture In the Mix group, Beth El’s Chai group, JDC Entwine, Jewish Family Service Emerging Leaders, Hillel of San Diego, Birthright, OU Next, StandWithUs and Tarbuton. In addition to helping with the planning of the event, partner organizations were asked to highlight the work they do and share any upcoming opportunities for volunteerism, social events or other ways to get involved.

Place2Be served as the official launch of Federation’s new community centered NextGen Initiative, which aims to provide every San Diegan in their 20s and 30s a way to connect to the Jewish Community in ways meaningful and relevant to them. NextGen's connection efforts  include: social gatherings, religious and spiritual experiences, advocacy, leadership, volunteering, philanthropy, Israel and humanitarian efforts, Jewish learning, and travel. 

For more information about NextGen and our partners in the community please visit: www.nextgensandiego.org

For some great pictures of the event check out our Facebook. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Providing Winter Relief for the Worlds Poorest Jews

Your generosity to Federation helps support vital programs for Jews in need around the world. Thank you for all that you do! 

When the violence in Ukraine spread to the eastern city of Donetsk, the Khomich family — 49-year-old Olga, her 87-year-old mother Lyudmila, and her 8-year-old daughter Polina, who suffers from cerebral palsy — found themselves caught in the crosshairs of an escalating political crisis.

Afraid the fighting would reach their home or threaten their lives, the Khomich family fled Donetsk and found refuge in Zaporozhye, a city of 775,000 — around the size of Charlotte, N.C. — located about three and a half hours west. JDC has helped the trio find housing, medical care, a wheelchair for Polina, and other basic needs in their new city — essential goods and services Olga would otherwise be unable to.

But winter presents a new and ferocious challenge.

In addition to crippling economic challenges — including devalued local currency and pensions and a 50 to 80 percent increase in the costs of food and medicine — a series of energy-saving measures will be enacted in Ukraine this year, leaving many poor and elderly people with little resources to survive below freezing temperatures. Theses include planned power outages and asking citizens to lower heating thermostats to below 60 Fahrenheit.

That’s where JDC and its signature Winter Relief program comes in. Annually, the initiative deliver tons of heating fuel, warm bedding, and clothing to needy Jews across the former Soviet Union — and it's been critically expanded in Ukraine this year to respond to a harsh winter worsened by the country’s energy crisis, skyrocketing costs, ongoing unrest, and the growing needs of displaced Jews.

The ramp-up of services — including window repairs and replacements, subsidizing utility payments, and providing extra fuel — represents a seven-fold increase in JDC’s Ukraine Winter Relief budget.

“While winter relief is a lifeline for tens of thousands of Jews in need on any given year, its even more essential in Ukraine where utility prices have soared and the crisis has continued with no end in sight.” said Michal Frank, director of JDC’s Former Soviet Union department. “We have proudly stood by the Jews of Ukraine during this period and, together with our invaluable partners, have redoubled our efforts to ensure this winter is imbued with the warmth of Jewish solidarity and mutual care.”

JDC staff and professionals at the 32 JDC-supported Hesed social welfare centers in Ukraine are providing extra winter supplies and services to poor elderly, struggling families, and displaced Jews who often cannot afford their utility bills or have direct access to heating supplies.

For the Khomich family, the assistance has taken the form of warm clothing and footwear, in addition to the existing aid package they are receiving as a displaced family.

“Our work with the Khomich family and so many others … is the ultimate expression of our mission and dedication to Jews in need,” Frank said.

The program operates in cooperation with the local Jewish community and groups like Chabad and would not be possible without generous support from JDC’s Board of Directors,individual donors and foundations, and trusted partners, including Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Jewish Federations, World Jewish Relief, and the Conference on Jewish Materials Claims Against Germany, she added.

There are more than 5,000 JDC clients remaining in eastern Ukraine, still suffering under shelling and fear of violence, and more than 2,000 displaced Jews JDC is caring for in different cities away from the conflict.

This article was originally published by the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) on December 10th. 

Click here to read the full article. 

San Diego Jewish Historian Don Harrison Highlighted in Union Tribune

Sharing the World's Jewish Stories

Even though Donald Harrison didn’t grow up religious, he eventually became somewhat of an expert in Judaism — specifically San Diego Judaism.

Harrison, 69, is the editor and publisher of San Diego Jewish World, a daily news website about Jewish topics here and around the world.

The journalist began his career in the secular world, working for The Associated Press in Los Angeles, Sacramento and New York. He moved to San Diego in 1972 to take over the politics beat at the former San Diego Union.

The San Carlos resident, who also writes general interest stories with a Jewish twist, tells us about his passion for Judaism.

Read more here

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bruchim HaBaim Alan Gross

Jewish Federations Hail Release of Alan Gross from Cuban Prison

Human rights activists across the United States are uplifted by the news that Alan Gross, a Jewish-American contractor, was freed from a Cuban prison after five years of captivity. The Jewish Federations of North America share in the joy felt by Judy Gross and her family, and thank President Barack Obama and his administration for working to free Gross, who was convicted of espionage despite consistently stating that he was in Cuba for no reason other than humanitarian ones.

Michael Siegal, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America, stated:

“This week, as the Jewish community celebrates the miracles of Hanukkah, we are grateful to celebrate the release of Alan Gross. We also remember that there are hundreds of innocents held captive throughout the world – many of whom are American citizens – and we hope they too are returned home to their families as soon as possible. Since the beginning of Alan's unjust incarceration, Jewish Federations has worked closely with Alan's family, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to bring about his release. Over the years - and as recently as this week - we have spoken publicly and privately to the very highest levels of the U.S. government - and with key influential players to advocate for his freedom. We stand in awe of Judy Gross' determined campaign to ensure that the world would not forget her husband. We are thankful to President Obama and Vice President Biden for their instrumental role in bringing about Alan's long-overdue return trip home.”

Linda Feldman, JCRC Director at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County remarked:

“On the first day of Hanukkah we are overjoyed with the miracle of Alan Gross being returned to his family. We are grateful to President Obama, Judy Gross and Ron Halber, Executive Director of JCRC of Greater Washington for their perseverance in keeping this in the forefront of the national Jewish community relations agenda.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wishing you a Happy Chanukah

Shalom and Happy Chanukah!

Michael has just returned from an eye-opening and inspiring trip to Israel to visit our 'family' in Sha’ar HaNegev, and we’re thrilled to report the generosity of the San Diego Jewish community has already made a huge impact on their lives. Your dollars are in action rebuilding communities, comforting suffering children, and providing aid to those in need.

Locally, your generosity is empowering our NextGeners to connect young adults through unprecedented charity events — building tomorrow’s Jewish San Diego.

Last month, we attended JFNA’s General Assembly in Washington DC, where Jews from around the world, representing the entire political spectrum, met to discuss issues facing Israel and our global Jewish community. It was inspiring to be surrounded by thousands of Jewish innovators, thinkers, and doers, all coming together for a common goal — more exciting news to come!

This Chanukah, as we gather with our families to light the menorah, we are thankful to you for your generosity. Your gift to Federation is also providing light, brightening the lives of Jews in need here in San Diego, in Israel, and around the world.
For that, we are extremely thankful.

Happy Chanukah and Chag Sameach!

NextGen to Host Place2Be on Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve Federation’s NextGen team will host Place2Be, an evening of philanthropy, community, and celebration at the Andaz Hotel in downtown San Diego. The event will bring hundreds of young adults together to raise money for local homeless shelters, community service projects in Israel, and aid for Jews in the Ukraine.

The event will take place from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the beautiful Andaz Wine Bar and Nightclub. In addition to ticket proceeds benefiting several local, national, and international philanthropic causes, there will be an on-site food collection area for the Jewish Family Service Hand Up Youth Food Pantry, a local organization that provides supplies for new mothers including: diapers, wipes, bottles, and formula. Participants are encouraged to bring a donation, and their dancing shoes!

Place2Be will be more than just the place to be on Christmas Eve with DJ Este spinning, a huge dance floor, and an incredible venue; this year, attendance is expected to exceed 500+ young Jewish adults from all over Southern California. Place2Be will be the ultimate evening of schmoozing, boozing, and tzedakah (charity).

“We are thrilled to announce this year’s event”, said Carly Ezell, NextGen Senior Manager, “For the first time ever, we’re partnering with a group of awesome organizations to deliver San Diego’s hottest Christmas Eve party. There are with many surprises in store - so buy your tickets in advance!”

The cost of the event is $18 for early bird registration. After the early rate, the cost is $25, and tickets at the door will be $36. Tickets can be purchased at nextgensandiego.org/place2be.

Chanukah Recipes | Connect with Jewish Cultures in Nine Countries

Federation and our partners do more than simply caring for Jews in need around the world. Our mission is to connect Jews locally, in Israel, and around the world to each other, and to the global Jewish community.

This Chanukah, connect with your roots and worldwide Jewry through traditional Jewish recipes from around the globe. Our partner’s at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) have collected and compiled recipes while on-the-ground providing support for world’s most vulnerable Jewish cultures!

As you prepare for eight nights of Chanukah, go ahead and spice things up this year – literally! Make some new traditions with your family, share and borrow these recipes from other Jewish mishpachas!

Happy Chanukah and Betay Avon (enjoy your meal)!

Click here for all 19 recipes! 

Friday, December 12, 2014

NextGen Hosts Latke Vodka 2014

On Wednesday, December 10, NextGen hosted their annual Chanukah party – Latke Vodka 2014. More than 170 young, Jewish San Diegans celebrated at Bottles & Wood – a unique Jewish owned storefront and factory that upcycles bottles, wood, and metal into pieces of art – that graciously offered the host the event.

Latke Vodka was an extraordinary simcha (celebration) with The New York on Rye Food truck frying up hot latkes, cold vodka beverages flowing, and bumping tunes by DJ Bobby Israel. Laughter and chatter filled the spacious and well-decorated room as old and new friends gathered to schmooze, booze, nosh, network, and rejoice in spirit of Chanukah.

“I’m thrilled by the amazing attendance of Latke Vodka 2014, it was great success,” said Danny Fleischer, new NextGen Manager. “I am excited and inspired by all the new people I continue to meet in San Diego, the Jewish community has been extremely warm and welcoming. I can’t wait to return the favor through some amazing NextGen programs in store for 2015.”

The party isn’t over yet! On December 24, NextGen will host Place2Be at the beautiful Andaz Hotel. NextGen is expecting more than 500 people to attend the Jewish Christmas Eve celebration, which will benefit several local philanthropies. Don’t forget to bring your dancing shoes and gelt for tzedekah!

To learn more about upcoming events and to learn how to get involved visit NextGensandiego.org or contact Danny Fleischer, NextGen Manager.

About NextGen:

NextGen – a Jewish Federation of San Diego County initiative – is dedicated to engaging Jewish young adults in San Diego County at a level that speaks to them. NextGen is an innovative collaboration of more than 15 young adult organizations, designed to inspire thousands of young philanthropists to get engaged and embrace their Jewish heritage.

NextGen’s mission is to double Jewish young adult engagement over the next four years through educational, social, religious, professional, and philanthropic programming. Currently, there are approximately 2,000 Jewish young adults involved in Jewish activities in San Diego. By 2017, NextGen aims to spur Jewish engagement for 5,000 young adults.

JPro Breakfast: A Celebration for the Pros

On Wednesday, December 10, more than fifty professionals attended the third Jewish Professional Network (JPro) breakfast. The Chanukah breakfast, dubbed “A Celebration for the Pros,” was a joyous holiday gathering over latkes and sufganiyot. However, the event was not all fun and driedling.

The breakfast convened with an opening speech from Rabbi Michael Berk of Congregation Beth Israel, who discussed the complex and deep-rooted history of the San Diego Jewish community – dating back more than 100 years. Rabbi Berk highlighted a central theme of Chanukah – finding and being a source of light – in our everyday professional and personal lives.

Attendees were asked to gather into small breakout groups based on their roles and departments. The groups each sat at round tables and the various clusters consisted of: communications, development, administrative, programming (youth, teen, and young adults), and accounting professionals. Similar to speed dating – but minus the dating – attendees were asked to speak to each person at their table, one-on-one, for five minutes, until they had spoken to everyone in their group.
Intellectual exchange, chatter, and laughter filled the Social Hall of Congregation Beth Israel. The Jewish Federation of San Diego County is proud to sponsor the JPro Network. “ The attendance of this year’s JPro events have been phenomenal and the programs seem to be well received by Jewish community professionals,” said Kara Liederman, JPro Steering Committee member and Development Manager at Federation. “The JPro team is working to develop some amazing programs that we’re excited to deliver in 2015.”

About JPro:

The Federation supported JPro Network aims to empower San Diego Jewish communal professionals with innovative ideas and best practices to impact the sector through community-wide educational and leadership programs. To learn more about JPro and future events visit their Facebook page

Thursday, December 11, 2014

One Day Left to Apply | JDC's Entwine | Inside Jewish Turkey 2015

Inside Jewish Turkey is an exclusive opportunity for San Diego young professionals to explore what it means to develop Jewish life in a very traditional society and gain insight into challenges facing the Turkish Jewish community. The group will immerse in the culture and rich history of this vibrant country through exchange with local peers and dynamic site visits.This year's trip Chairs are Jessie Bustamante and Miki Lamm.

Application Deadline: December 15

For more information and to request an application: http://jdcentwine.org/trips/inside-jewish-turkey-2015-sd

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hanukkah - Second Candle Lighting Event & Party | December 17

Come and Join us to celebrate this lovely holiday in a unique party at Barfly in La Jolla. 
 For more info and to purchase tickets, go to:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Shop, (Amazon) Smile, and Support Jewish Community

This Black Friday and Cyber Monday, while you’re shopping for Chanukah presents for your friends and family, you can support our Jewish community by shopping with AmazonSmile.

Amazon’s AmazonSmile program donates a portion of your purchase – year-round – to charitable organizations of your choice! Shop for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, gadgets, and must-haves to support Jewish community 365 days a year!

Start your shopping and tzedakah today! 

Click here to begin!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Deadline for JITLI 2015 Is Closing Soon

By Ian Kornfeld - 2015 JITLI Teen Counselor 

Founded in 2000 with the assistance of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, the Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute (JITLI) has quickly become one of the most highly regarded and selective programs offered to Jewish teenagers in San Diego. The Institute realizes the vision of its founders to create a program dedicated to the education and leadership development of young people in the context of interaction with other cultures.

JITLI is a year long educational leadership program that culminates in an unique and unforgettable trip to the State of Israel. This experience offers San Diego participants the chance to travel and form lasting connections with Israeli teenagers from three drastically different communities. Each year JITLI consists of 10 American Jews from San Diego, 10 Israeli Jews from Sha'ar HaNegev and 20 Arab-Israelis from the communities of Lakiya and Segev Shalom.

Participants are also expected to attend periodic meetings in the months leading up to their summer experience. These meetings serve to prepare for the trip, develop leadership and communication skills, promote education and discussion on contemporary and historic issues relating to Judaism and Israel, and to bond the San Diego participants into one cohesive group.

JITLI is currently accepting applications from Jewish 11th graders living in the San Diego area. Applications can be submitted at www.JITLI.org/apply and are due before December 24th, 2014. Parents and potential participants can contact 2015JITLI@gmail.com for questions about the program.

Ian Kornfeld, is a senior at Coronado High School and was a participant in last year's JITLI program. He is honored to have been chosen as this year's teen JITLI counselor for San Diego.  

Double Your Impact with a Corporate Match

Did you know that many companies have gift matching programs that will match your gift to the Jewish Federation of San Diego County? Most of these programs match contributions dollar-for-dollar, and some will even double or triple the amount of the gift!

Eligible gifts may include monthly payroll deductions or annual commitments. Some companies will even match gifts made by retirees or spouses of employees.

By taking advantage of your company’s matching gift benefit, you can help increase vital health and humanitarian services in San Diego, in Israel, and around the world.

Friday, December 5, 2014

An Extraordinary #GivingTuesday


With your help, in one day, this amazing Jewish Community raised enough money to feed 1200 homebound San Diegans - far exceeding our goal!


For being patient and not unsubscribing from our deluge of emails.
(we know it was a lot)



For your generosity and support.


For all you do.

Still want to give to #GivingTuesday?
It's not too late!


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Attack on Jewish-Arab Bilingual School | December 2nd

Dear Community,

We were outraged to learn that the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem, where Jewish and Arab-Israeli children study together, was vandalized and attacked by arsonists on Saturday. We condemn this act of hate and destruction and hopes that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

The State of Israel is a democracy premised on our most cherished Jewish values and is committed by its Declaration of Independence to "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex." Institutions that work to build a just and inclusive society by promoting better understanding between Jews and Arabs help strengthen Israel for the benefit of all its citizens. To better provide philanthropic support to institutions engaged in this work, JFNA has created an ongoing partnership of Federations, private foundations and individual philanthropists known as the JFNA Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society (SVF). Over the past seven years, the SVF has allocated more than $5 million to a variety of such institutions, including Hand in Hand.

Just hours after the arson attack, police, parents and volunteers worked to make sure the school would be able to open as scheduled. Below is a comment from one of our colleagues in Israel, describing the outpouring of support Sunday morning at the Hand in Hand School.

At 8:00 this morning, the entrance to the Jerusalem [Hand in Hand] bilingual school was packed with parents, kids, journalists and just regular folks who wanted to express their grief and outrage over the deliberate arson-burning of the school's first grade classrooms. Amid all the supporters what moved me to tears was the amazing solidarity by Jerusalem's school children.

The Keshet School, which is a joint religious-secular Jewish school, sent the entire school for a solidarity visit. They came in chanting, "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies." Kids from the Kidma School, also in the neighborhood and specializing in educating and empowering Sephardic kids from Katamonim, held signs with the same sentiments. Then, to top it off, a large group of teenage religious boys from Hartman High School stood outside singing songs of peace from the tefillot. Their presence reinforced the fact that the bilingual school is part and parcel of Jerusalem's educational system. It does not operate in a bubble. Through its living example of shared education, the school is having a much broader impact on Jerusalem's school system. May their example continue to shine on.



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

French Jews Receive Israeli Self-Defense Certifications Upon Aliyah

 Magen program participant, Simon Abouka.

When Jews makes Aliyah, Federation and our partners ensure they learn more than just Hebrew. Magen, a joint initiative of Federation’s partners at the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Beitar World Movement, and the World Zionist Organization, provides certifications in Israeli self-defense, as part of a comprehensive Israel immersion program for new immigrants.

Upon arrival in Israel, program participants at the Raanana Absorption Center undergo immersive Hebrew study, athletics, and self-defense courses at the Wingate Institute. The mission of the program is to instill self-confidence and self-defense in young Jews, which is exactly what it did for its most recent graduates – a group of thirty young Jews from France.

“The course is especially necessary at a time where there is a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and attacks on Jews worldwide,” remarked Yaakov Hagouel of the World Zionist Organization.

Recently, our on the ground partners at the Jewish Agency are seeing an influx of olim (people making Aliyah). The rise in Aliyah from the Jews of France is at the highest rate since the establishment of the state of Israel.

Ilana Medar, a program participant and new resident of Israel
One program participant, eighteen-year-old, Ilana Medar, described the Parisian atmosphere as filled with “palpable intolerance and a sense of fear.”

The program has been a great success, and its emphasis on self-defense continues help olim in a variety of ways. “Let there be no doubt,” say Jacques Kupfer, Director of Beitar France. “Jews must be able to protect themselves, wherever they are.”

Your generosity funds important programs like Magen in Israel. Thank you for your support.

Together, we do extraordinary things.

To learn more about our partners at the Jewish Agency visit their website.

To read the full article click here.

Jenna's First Trip to Israel

Federation's beloved and revered Graphic Designer, Jenna Zetisky, recently traveled to Israel for her first time, with JDC Entwine. While on her week-long adventure, Jenna blogged about her life-changing experience. Below are Jenna's reflections on her time spent in Israel.

Day One and Two

We arrived in Jerusalem full of anticipation, settled in with some ice-breaker sessions and got to know one another a little better. We also received a warm welcome from Charles Ribakoff, chair of the JDC-Israel Committee who told us how happy he is to have us there and that the week ahead was sure to be amazing. Afterwards, still full of adrenalin and energy, a few of us decided to take a walk through the old city to see the Western wall. I could hardly wait to see it for the first time, and as we made our way down the cobblestone streets, through old archways and past historic ruins my excitement grew. Being at the wall is a very moving and powerful experience. It was midnight and there were still large groups of people taking a moment to pray, to make a wish, to simply feel the energy of this ancient symbol of fortitude. I slipped a note in the wall with one simple wish, and as we left I felt emotional, but I also had an indescribable feeling of belonging. I fell asleep with an instinct that the journey ahead was going to be life-changing.

We squeezed a lot into our first day of the trip. After an amazing Israeli style breakfast and enjoying the view from Mount Zion Hotel, we were ready to head to our fist site visit. We arrived at the JDC's offices where we were given a briefing and overview on Israel's key social challenges of today. JDC's TEVET Partnership with the government was created to raise the level of marketable skills among Israel's most vulnerable communities, such as the ultra-Orthodox and the disabled. We learned that JDC in Israel is like an incubator for social issues. Some of the focuses are the high percentages of at-risk youth and the disabled and elderly who are looking to have a quality of life that is supportive and empowering. Our first day focused on learning all about the Haredi Jews in Jerusalem and the challenges that they face.

We were taken on a walking tour of neighborhoods Me'a Shearim and Geula, by Aharon, a specialist on Haredi issues. I had known very little about Haredi Jews before today, about their values and challenges, and the intricacies of their everyday lives. I may have had my preconceptions, but I wanted to go into the experience with an open mind. We heard from two Haredi Jews themselves and I got the impression that they really wanted us to believe that their lives are very similar to ours and that their families are loving and very happy.

We learned that there is a very low employment rate amongst the Haredim, especially the males. For the men, their sole purpose in life is Torah study and they devote most of their time to it. They have large families with eight children on average and the wives have most of the responsibility of raising the children. The women often get part-time work that helps them to support their families and this has it's own set of challenges. They seek jobs that are flexible, close to home and that respect their values and traditions. They live somewhat insular lives and often don't have televisions, radios or computers in their homes. Real estate is especially expensive for these large families, and young couples have had to move further away from home and establish new communities. There is concern about how the existing communities they settle in will respond to them. We were informed of a JDC program which offers information and guidance to help Haredi Jews with training and finding jobs. We visited a call center where several women had been trained and are currently working.

One might think they live a somewhat sheltered life and that their children grow up with a more narrowed experience than other children living in Israel. I personally believe that being exposed to all the good and the bad in society and choosing to do the right thing builds a strong character and identity. From the perspective of the Haredi Jews, they are not sheltering their children, but rather not unnecessarily exposing them to temptations that are not beneficial for spiritual growth. The experience was definitely eye-opening. I believe that they lead happy lives but at the same time I wonder if there may be resentment or hardship beneath the surface.

At dinner that night we had the opportunity to discuss and share our thoughts from the day. We openly discussed what bothered us, what inspired us, and what was unexpected. Some said they were surprised by how welcoming and open the Haredi men were that spoke to us, thinking that we might be treated more as outsiders. One thing that stuck with me was how much the women have on their plates, with raising so many children and creating a supportive environment for the whole family, as well as being in the workforce. I couldn't help but raise the question of why roles in the family can't be more balanced. Would it not be less taxing and more meaningful to share the raising of children more equally as parents, to share the experience of studying torah together as well as apart? And would it not be empowering to each be working to support the family? I think that due to financial hardships this is a question they are having to face more and more. As of 2013, 27,000 Haredim men and women have participated in JDC-TEVET employment programs; 14,436 have been placed in jobs, and 2,500 are currently enrolled in training programs and hopefully the numbers will continue to rise. I think that with understanding and respect a great deal is and can be done to help the Haredi Jews build skills, find their niches in the workforce and collaborate with one another.

Day Three

Today we shifted gears to learn about the Ethiopian immigrants of Israel and the programs that are in place to help them with finding work, keeping their sense of identity and culture, and raising children in Israel. We visited an after-school activity center in Kiryat Gat where the program Parents and Children together (PACT) was being implemented for children at early development stage and heard from a local coordinator who is an Ethiopian immigrant himself. He explained that integrating the Ethiopian children with Israeli children is very important and what PACT is all about. The program brings psychologists into the classrooms to identify special needs, plan and implement interventions, track the children’s development, aid the teachers professionally, and provide the parents with counseling. There are subsidies and a lot of support available to families through this program.

There are a large number of single parents in the community and they are grateful to have extra support. In Ethiopia mothers often carry their children wrapped around their backs and the children don't always make direct eye contact with an adult when they are speaking as a sign of respect. These are things that in the western culture we are not accustomed to, so when the Ethiopian families first came over to Israel this program did a great deal to help them to not only adjust, but to thrive. PACT has integrated classes with various activities that promote positive social, emotional, and behavioral development among the children. One of the activities we joined in on had the kids building paper huts that look like the houses made from straw and clay in Ethiopia. In many ways the Ethiopians are still keeping their cultural traditions and identity alive, as this is very important to them. 18 kindergartens benefit from this program in Kiryat Gat, and altogether 14 000 Ethiopian children are benefiting from this program throughout Israel. We had a chance to sit with the children and observe their activities, watching them sing hebrew songs. They seemed very excited to have us there. As we were listening to a talk earlier in another classroom the children were playing outside and kept smiling and waving at us through the window. I waved back and smiled at one of the kids and later as we walked out, he found me, waited for me to put away my notes in my bag and then gave me a big hug. It was a really special moment and I could have spent all day there.

The local coordinator of PACT told us the story of how his family came to be in Israel, fleeing the Civil war and a great drought in Ethiopia. It was a really tough journey and he was only 2 years old at the time so he shares the story his parents told him. He said that his family always believed they would come to Israel one day and it was only a matter of when. They set off on foot for Sudan, and along the way were stopped and warned that if they went on they would likely not make it. If friends or family members passed away along the journey, they had to bury them and then move on, trying to have faith that there was something better that lay ahead for their families. Israel was not just a safer place to settle for them but a chance at a better life for their children and families, a chance at an education and a successful future. And this story is not unique. There are millions of Ethiopians who made this same brutal journey, not knowing if they would make it.

We then headed over to a clubhouse next to a small forest where programs are held for youth-at-risk. These youth have often had really tough family lives and experienced hardships and neglect. They end up leaving school and resorting to drugs and violence. We learned about the Nirim in Community Program from founder, Shlomi. He told us that the program provides critical support and life skills to these youths through community service, tutoring and retreats in the desert and wilderness. These children usually start out being resistant to the activities and abrasive with everyone, but through the program they learn to trust one another, they bond with their leaders, and realize that they can learn some valuable life skills there. We were led through some of the exercises they do, like pulling yourself across a rope bridge on your stomach and being blindfolded and led by voiced instructions through the forest. The exercises were fun, challenging and definitely took us out of our comfort zones.

From there we went to a center where the program Better Together is put into practice. They focus on early childhood development and have many enrichment activities for children from disadvantaged communities. The program also aims to engage parents, teachers, and community leaders in strengthening communities. We were led to a classroom where they had volunteers teaching free art classes to children in the community and you could see how much fun the children and volunteers were having getting creative together. This is something I do in my own community and I'm so happy to see the power of creativity and how it brings people of all ages together.

We then headed to a boutique brewery in the Negev for a tour and taste of some local beer. Everyone was really impressed by the delicious amber ales and stouts that they had to sample. It was great to relax after an intense day with a cold beer in the peace of the desert. After dinner and reflections on the day, we spent the night at Kibbutz Kramim Chalets where we roasted s'mores around the bonfire and bonded over music, stories and our shared experiences. It was a very meaningful day and heart-warming to see all that is being done to support children and parents and to build stronger communities of diverse cultures.

Day Four

We started out the day visiting the Eshel Senior Day Center and learned of the programs in place to combat loneliness amongst the elderly, such as bringing in high school students as volunteers to read to the seniors and join in on creative activities with them. While we were there they were molding clay ceramics and we were told that it is not only very therapeutic, but also soothing to their rheumatoid arthritis in their hands and fingers. There are programs in place that deliver hot meals and medicine to the elderly that are homebound, and this is especially critical during the times of conflict, when it is too dangerous for them to leave home. Many of the elderly there are survivors of the Holocaust and it means a lot to them to be able to talk and relate to one another in a unique way.

We met up with Avivit from The Inter-Agency task force on Arab-Israeli issues. Members of the Task Force believe in social and political equality for all inhabitants of Israel, Jews and Arabs alike. The Task Force aims to generate awareness among the North American Jewish and Israeli public to advance civic equality in Israel, where Israeli Jews and Arabs can contribute, participate and benefit as full citizens.

We then visited a Bedouin community in the Negev where we had a chance to learn what life is like for bedouins and the very complicated issues they face when it comes to identity and ownership of land. Some of them said they identify as Bedouins but they are first and foremost Arabs and Palestinians. We spoke to two 23 year old girls and they were very open with sharing with us what their lives are like and what their traditions are. They were both studying and had a lot of ambition. The one girl said that she volunteers at a school with Palestinian and Jewish children and that everything is very integrated between the two cultures. They are taught both Jewish and Palestinian songs and she said it warms your heart and gives you hope for the future to witness it. We learned that, during the conflict when the rockets were falling, the Iron dome system always tries to protect recognized Bedouin communities. However, the unrecognized communities aren't even on the map and are therefore more at risk. These communtities often don't even have electricity or running water.

We then made our way to Jaffa and ended off a busy day with an amazing and very unique dining experience at Na Laga'at "Dinner in the Dark." The waiters are either completely blind or have limited sight and we dine in a pitch black room. At first as we walked into the room in a train with hands on the shoulders of each person in front. I felt a little anxious about the idea of eating and drinking in the dark and being the klutz that I am, was quite certain I was going to break something. Soon after being seated I really started to enjoy it as it became peaceful and all my other senses were heightened. We managed to pour wine and make a toast in the dark and pass things to one another surprisingly well. I felt as though everyone was really listening a little more than usual. The meal was delicious and dessert was a surprise that we had to guess at. Our waitress shared her story, what she was studying at university and what her experiences have been working there. It was a special, unique experience and I would definitely recommend it.

Day Five

Israel is full of social entrepreneurs and successful start-ups and on day five we visited two guys who told us all about their projects. One project aims to raise awareness of smartphone addiction by getting people to participate in a phone-face-down challenge while out with friends, while another was a resource for graphic designers who are navigating the freelance world and need help finding work, quoting and juggling clients and creating the best resume they can. They also spoke of how they were a part of the unplug for Shabbat effort that has been making it's way around the world and that we joined recently in San Diego.

We then visited a center for young adults with disabilities and learned about the challenges faced when it comes to finding a good job. Here we met with Jewish Service Corps fellows who will be working in this field in Israel for a year. We discussed what it means to have a disability and what people's perceptions might be, how as a society we may underestimate the disabled. Often they are just as capable as we are, though their abilities may be different.

We took a break for lunch in Shuk HaCarmel where we enjoyed hummus and pita and had some interesting debates. We discussed disabilities and the fact that there are sometimes options available to improve someone's life who has a disability. If you are a parent with a deaf child, and you have the opportunity to get them cochlear implant surgery with the ability for them to hear, would you take it? Or do you feel that there is nothing missing from their life and they are happy and successful just as they are. If you are a deaf parent with a deaf child, do you worry that they will leave you behind and enter a different world that you are not privy to? We also discussed hidden disabilities versus physically apparent disabilities. It can be really difficult to have a physical disability that causes others to form snap judgements about you, and it can also be challenging to have a hidden disability where people think you look just fine but have no idea of the pain or discomfort you might be experiencing daily. This experience was a reminder to me that as a society we could be doing more to make sure the disabled don't feel isolated, unconsidered and underestimated.

Afterwards we headed to Lod's Center for young adults which offers immigrant and disadvantaged young adults the skills and information needed to lead successful lives. Community-building and leadership opportunities are always available through the center. We then spent some time weeding in a beautiful community garden with some bubbly ladies from the community. They sent us off feeling rejuvenated and healthy after some fruit from the garden. We ended off the day with an incredible meal, hosted by Charles, at restaurant Herbert Samuel where we were joined by some more Jewish Service Corps. fellows working in various programs, and the room was alive with interesting conversation. We then headed off to Sorona Beer Garden in the hub of Tel Aviv where we had a great time and unwound from a busy day.

Day Six and Seven

Today we learned that there is a lot of support for refugees, asylum seekers, and their children. We visited a school for children of refugees who often have extremely challenging backgrounds and have needs far beyond basic education. The staff work hard to care for the children's unique needs and emotional well-being. As we walked around and observed the children playing and engaged in different activities, I noticed that they were very respectful and supportive of one another. Three girls were sitting together while one of them read from a book to the others and there were other kids helping their friend walk who had fallen and hurt herself. It seemed like a very caring environment, where the children could have fun, and feel safe and secure at the same time. As we stood in a group with children running around us in all directions, in a room with flags from many different countries and symbols of peace painted on the walls, I felt inspired and hopeful. It also reminded me how much I love being around children.

We then went on a tour of Tel Aviv through areas where there are a large number of african refugees and an ethnic neighborhood where we visited Levinsky market for lunch. We spent some more time in the market looking for some wine and baklava for Shabbat. That night we all headed down to the beach for a candlelight Shabbat service and to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful night and we sang prayers and each shared our reflections on an exciting, stimulating week and our intentions for Shabbat.

Over six days we had learned of so many critical issues and significant challenges in Israel and the most amazing part was seeing how many caring, selfless and dynamic people were putting in their time, energy, hearts and souls, and embracing those with different cultures and lifestyles to their own. I can only speak for myself, but I think that In the process we all learned a lot about ourselves, what pulls at our hearts, and makes us lean forward. As each of us return to the routine of our daily lives, some experiences will resonate more, some memories will linger longer than others, and whatever we choose to do with that, I think we are all different people from it. We all take something away from the experience, and the beauty is, that we all have the ability to create change, to spread the word, and to share our experiences within our communities. As I sat in a circle of of new, wonderful friends from all over the United States and the world, I felt at home. And as I stood with my feet in the Mediterranean and thought over the past week I felt both restless with energy and ideas and at the same time grounded and at peace. I realized that what grounds me is surrounding myself with good people who I connect with, it's using my creativity for a greater purpose, it's leading and mentoring and working with children. I hope that each and every person I shared this experience with walks away feeling inspired.

As we spent our last day of the trip simply enjoying each others company and a walking graffiti tour through the neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, I realized how much I had bonded with these great people and how much we had learned about one another in such a short time. I left Israel feeling a deeper connection with my roots, a greater understanding of the Jewish homeland and yes, I'm an eternal optimist, but I do have hope that in spite of the terrible things that have been happening between Palestinians and Israelis, and although the issues are complicated, there is progress being made and people working together for the greater good. And with all my heart, I hope and pray for peace.

Kol Ha'Kavod to the Jewish Community Foundation

Congratulations to Federation's partners at the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF). Kol Ha'Kavod to JCF for their hard work and contribution to the San Diego Jewish Community. Below is an article published by the U-T San Diego on Nov. 21st. Click here to read more.

A Landmark for the Jewish Community Foundation

By U-T San Diego Editorial Board 5 P.M.NOV. 21, 2014

The San Diego community is blessed to have a number of extraordinarily generous individuals whose donations and financial commitments have improved our lives on a wide variety of fronts. But what might not be as appreciated is the extraordinarily generous institutions that step forward regularly and decisively to make San Diego and the world a better place.
A strong case can be made that this second list is topped by the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego. This week, the total sum of charitable grants the foundation has made in its 47-year history topped the $1 billion milestone.
This largesse has helped a vast array of nonprofit groups; more than 60,000 grants have been made to 5,000 organizations in San Diego, Israel and other communities since 1967. In fiscal 2013-14 alone, the foundation provided more than $100 million, primarily to educational institutions, health and human service providers, and arts groups.
This extraordinary generosity has been accompanied by peerless standards in accountability and transparency in the fundraising process — standards that have won broad acclaim and recognition in the philanthropy industry.
We offer our congratulations to the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego for its exceptional history — and its determination to do even more in coming years and decades. To learn more about the foundation, please go to www.jcfsandiego.org.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Friendship Circle of San Diego Photo Update

The Friendship Circle of San Diego, a long standing Federation partner, has had a very busy year! The Friendship Circle aims to enrich the lives of children, teens, and adults with special needs through social and recreational experiences while inspiring volunteers to participate in building a stronger and more inclusive community. Some highlights include:

Friendship Circle has partnered with a number of local Jewish organizations to expand programs and opportunities in our community. Children and teens of the Friendship Circle are having a wonderful time participating in the new performing arts club – Shooting Stars, founded by teens Chloe Dahan and Jamie Zimmerman and located at the JCC and Adat Yeshuurn.

 The Friendship Circle was excited to participate in the Mega Challah Bake at the San Diego Jewish Academy, part of the recent Shabbat San Diego weekend of activities. The Friendship Circle was thrilled by the number of volunteers, including the Hirschhorns with their Eichner volunteers and Jessica Brook and her J-teen volunteers.

The Jewish Family Service Hands Up Youth Food Pantry, provided Friendship Circle participants the opportunity to give back to the community with the assistance of their teen volunteers.

Members of the The Friendship Circle and AEPi college students recently spent a lovely afternoon bonding and having fun in Balboa Park, facilitated by Jewish Student Life at SDSU. Caring teens from Beth Am orchestrated a wonderful afternoon at Free Flight – an exotic bird sanctuary – with members of the Friendship Circle.

The Friendship Circle has been busy making new friends and planning new activities. To date, they have provided friendship to more than 512 children and families, has had more than 754 volunteers, and has provided approximately 2,446 hours of service.

The Jewish Federation of San Diego County would like to wish a Kol Ha’Kavod to the Friendship Circle of San Diego!

Join Beth Jacobs for these Great Upcoming Events

Israel's Future: A Conversation with Peter Beinart and San Diego Rabbinic Leaders | December 15