Young Ambassadors in Israel Prepare for Return Home


There is unanimity on one point only: Two young Irvine women, who are midway through a 10-month subsidized stay in Israel, will return home next June speaking conversational Hebrew.

But little else is certain as both girls’ parents predict their offspring will return changed by the immersion in voluntary social service, language training and civics lessons.

Naomi Neustaedter, 23, and Elaina Deutsch, 24, left the United States for Israel in August along with 39 other recent college graduates from around the country on a program subsidized by United Jewish Communities (UJC), the parent organization of local federations. The program’s goal is creating informal ambassadors for Israel.

"They consider it a failure if the kids make aliyah," said Elaina’s mother, Margie Deutsch-Lash. "They don’t want them to stay."

"The chances the graduates come back to Orange County aren’t that great, but chances are they’ll be involved in Jewish life," said Ira Karem, a Federation representative in Israel.

Bunnie Mauldin, the Jewish Federation of Orange County’s executive director, said both girls demonstrated their seriousness about Judaism by participating locally in Jewish teen programs and serving as camp councilors.

About 100 young adults took advantage of the program annually in the last decade until 2002 when participation dropped to 12. Yet, the three-year long plague of suicide attacks of Israeli targets did not dissuade Neustaedter or Deutsch, their mothers said, because both women have made previous visits. Each contributed $2,700 toward airfare and daily food.

Named Otzma, Hebrew for strength, the UJC program includes an intensive induction in Ashkelon, a southern town and immigration center. Their days are spent learning Hebrew and civic topics like politics and immigration and serving as a volunteer corps painting houses, for example. The remaining six months the group separates and performs community service elsewhere in the country. Host families take in the visitors on weekends and holidays.

"I do know that the UJC has a motive for our project," Neustaedter said. "But I’ve actually been impressed with the education days they’ve been providing for us.

"I’m not so concerned about being manipulated or brainwashed or anything because I feel like I already have a broad perspective of Israeli culture," she said.

After spending a year attending Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Neustaedter graduated last June with a teaching credential from Cal State University Fullerton. "I’ve already had experiences with most types of Israelis including Zionists, seculars, settlers, anti-Zionists, haredis and Arabs," Neustaedter said.

Both girls, along with others in the group, recently volunteered in Sefaram. In the houses of elderly Arab-Israelis, they wiped grime, killed cockroaches and painted walls.

"I learned so much about these people we met and saw a whole other side of Israel that I have never seen before," Deutsch said in an e-mail note to her parents.

She and Neustaedter are to spend the next three months in another southern town, Qiryat Milakhi. Their duties will include English tutoring of high school students preparing for college entrance tests prior to their military service.

Lydia Neustaedter, a native of Tunisia, met her U.S.-born husband, Craig, in Jerusalem.

"Naomi feels so comfortably in Israel," she said. "I’m scared to go, but she’s not scared," said the mother, noting that so far the southern communities have escaped violence.

The mother of five supported the trip for another reason: it temporarily forestalls her daughter’s having to assume the responsibilities of adulthood.

"She takes a year to do what she wanted before her real life begins," Lydia Neustaedter said.

One of her daughter’s goals, though, was visiting a friend who recently immigrated and lives in a West Bank settlement, her mother said. Otzma officials, who forbid the group from using public transportation, refused.

But the group has not escaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entirely. Part of the program includes field trips, such as participating in November in the UJC’s General Assembly in Jerusalem. Another outing in the city Sept. 9 included lunch at Cafe Hillel just hours before it was bombed.

Shaken, both girls called home even before their parents heard about the tragedy.

"It was very frightening, of course," Neustaedter said. "But unfortunately, I’ve been in Israel during the intifada before and I’ve had very similar experiences. The day after the bombings, I stayed home from ulpan [an intensive Hebrew course] because I wanted some time to myself and I knew everyone was just going to talk about it more and more. The truth is it frightens me the more we talk about it. I guess it’s easier just not to listen to the news and live your daily life here. That’s the easiest way for me."

Deutsch-Lash, whose daughter, Elaina, graduated last December from San Francisco State University after majoring in art, said, "I like to listen first and not tell kids what to do from a safety and protective point of view."

"As much as I’m concerned about her well-being, I’m also jealous. I’m proud of her that she feels secure enough to do this."

"I try not to think about the safety issues," said Deutsch-Lash. "If she wasn’t sounding good on the phone, I’d have more concerns. But she sounds like she’s experiencing things very positively."

Knowing other young adults who participated in previous year’s trips, Deutsch-Lash feels confidant her daughter’s experience will prove both life-changing as well as cement her Jewish identity.

"It’s a practical education learning about what happens in Israeli life and bringing it back to North America," she said.

Project Re’ut Melds Optimism, Realism


For many observers the "road map," which envisions creating a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, looks increasingly like a dead end. As does the Geneva accord. With Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists blowing up innocent Israelis in bloody attacks and Israel building a security fence around itself that slices through Palestinian lands, rarely has peace seemed so elusive.

For Gidi Grinstein, though, the current deadlock should be but a detour on the way to a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. The 33-year-old director of Project Re’ut, a new Tel Aviv-based think tank that envisions creating a comprehensive approach for Israel to move toward a beneficial two-state solution, said he is cautiously optimistic, although a realist.

"The purpose of Project Re’ut is to prepare a toolkit of national security and foreign policy strategies for the government of Israel to go for the vision of a Jewish and democratic state across a range of possible scenarios," said Grinstein, a former secretary of the negotiating team for the Barak government who is in town trying to drum up support for his fledgling think tank.

Grinstein said he understands the difficulties and uncertainties of hammering out an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University also is aware of the toll repeated suicide bombings have had on the Israeli psyche.

Where others might see darkness, Grinstein sees light, if only a ray. To move Israel from here to there, his Project Re’ut hopes to assemble 100 of Israel’s leading thinkers to grapple with several major issues. Among the topics Re’ut will address: how best to establish a Palestinian state; how to resolve the question of right of return; how to foster stronger Israeli-Palestinian economic relations and trade; how to resolve disputes over water and infrastructure; and what to do about Jerusalem and access to holy sites.

Launched in April by the Economic Cooperation Foundation in Israel, Re’ut has already attracted some of Israel’s biggest foreign policy and national security players. Maj. Gen. Amnon Lipkin Shahak, former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff; David Kimchi and Avi Gil, former director generals of the Israeli Foreign Office; Gen. Ze’ev Livneh, former IDF defense attaché to the United States and Canada; and Avi Ben-Bassat, David Brodet and Ezra Sadan, all former director generals of the Ministry of Finance, are among Re’ut participants.

Re’ut joins a growing list of think tanks dedicated to finding a solution to Israel’s growing security problems. Although well-meaning, it is unclear to what degree, if any, those groups influence policy. Grinstein, who made his first fundraising swing through Southern California in mid-September, said he hopes to achieve much through his efforts.

Grinstein admits that much needs to happen before there can be peace with the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians have to get their act together and establish a unitary structure of command over all armed forces and control over all use of force. Without this, there may be agreements but no peace," he said.

And, contrary to the wishes of many Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, peace might mean dealing with Yasser Arafat, provided agreements can be monitored and enforced.

"Yasser Arafat is definitely relevant, the only real Palestinian leader," he said.

Grinstein thinks the lessons of the past can help Israel navigate a smoother future in its quest for peace. However, Grinstein warns that Palestinians must change their attitudes in order for peace to prevail.

"The Palestinian leadership hasn’t established transparent and accountable government structures in the fields of security and economics," he said. "This has led to a failing governmental performance and an inability and unwillingness to enforce law and order and prevent terrorism. That, in turn, has led to worsening conditions of living for Palestinians.

Israel has had its share of problems as well, including political instability. Since 1993, the country has had five prime ministers. The rapid expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza hasn’t helped either.

Against this dispiriting backdrop, some Jews are supporting the construction of a security fence around Israel proper and some of the disputed areas. Such a security barrier, they argue, will keep terrorists out and Israelis safe. However, Grinstein said peace cannot be imposed. A security fence fails to grapple with such important issues as internationally recognized borders and the status of Jerusalem.

Still, Grinstein said Israelis are a resilient people. Although trust in the Palestinians has plummeted, many citizens of the Jewish State are hungry for peace and have finally recognized the need for a two-state solution, no matter how painful.

"I believe Israel has a legacy of eventually seizing the moment and making things happen. I am seeing many signs that such a historic moment is getting closer," he said.

Grinstein will be speaking at University Synagogue’s Synaplex Shabbat on Jan. 9. To find out more information about Project Re’ut, please write to gidi@ecf.org.il.

Project Re’ut Melds Optimism, Realism


For many observers the "road map," which envisions creating a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, looks increasingly like a dead end. With Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists blowing up innocent Israelis in bloody attacks and Israel building a security fence around itself that slices through Palestinian lands, rarely has peace seemed so elusive.

For Gidi Grinstein, though, the current deadlock should be but a detour on the way to a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. The 33-year-old director of Project Re’ut, a new Tel Aviv-based think tank that envisions creating a comprehensive approach for Israel to move toward a beneficial two-state solution, said he is cautiously optimistic, although a realist.

"The purpose of Project Re’ut is to prepare a toolkit of national security and foreign policy strategies for the government of Israel to go for the vision of a Jewish and democratic state across a range of possible scenarios," said Grinstein, a former secretary of the negotiating team for the Barak government who is in town trying to drum up support for his fledgling think tank.

Grinstein said he understands the difficulties and uncertainties of hammering out an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University also is aware of the toll repeated suicide bombings have had on the Israeli psyche.

Where others might see darkness, Grinstein sees light, if only a ray. To move Israel from here to there, his Project Re’ut hopes to assemble 100 of Israel’s leading thinkers to grapple with several major issues. Among the topics Re’ut will address: how best to establish a Palestinian state; how to resolve the question of right of return; how to foster stronger Israeli-Palestinian economic relations and trade; how to resolve disputes over water and infrastructure; and what to do about Jerusalem and access to holy sites.

Launched in April by the Economic Cooperation Foundation in Israel, Re’ut has already attracted some of Israel’s biggest foreign policy and national security players. Maj. Gen. Amnon Lipkin Shahak, former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff; David Kimchi and Avi Gil, former director generals of the Israeli Foreign Office; Gen. Ze’ev Livneh, former IDF defense attaché to the United States and Canada; and Avi Ben-Bassat, David Brodet and Ezra Sadan, all former director generals of the Ministry of Finance, are among Re’ut participants.

Re’ut joins a growing list of think tanks dedicated to finding a solution to Israel’s growing security problems. Although well-meaning, it is unclear to what degree, if any, those groups influence policy. Grinstein, who made his first fundraising swing through Southern California in mid-September, said he hopes to achieve much through his efforts.

Grinstein admits, though, that much needs to happen before there can be peace with the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians have to get their act together and establish a unitary structure of command over all armed forces and control over all use of force. Without this, there may be agreements but no peace," he said.

And, contrary to the wishes of many Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, peace might mean dealing with Yasser Arafat, provided agreements can be monitored and enforced.

"Yasser Arafat is definitely relevant, the only real Palestinian leader," Grinstein said.

Grinstein thinks the lessons of the past can help Israel navigate a smoother future in its quest for peace. However, Grinstein warns that Palestinians must change their attitudes in order for peace to prevail.

"The Palestinian leadership hasn’t established transparent and accountable government structures in the fields of security and economics," he said. "This has led to a failing governmental performance and an inability and unwillingness to enforce law and order and prevent terrorism. That, in turn, has led to worsening conditions of living for Palestinians.

Israel has had its share of problems as well, including political instability. Since 1993, the country has had five prime ministers. The rapid expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza hasn’t helped either.

Against this dispiriting backdrop, some Jews have supported the construction of a security fence around Israel proper and some of the disputed areas. Such a security barrier, they argue, would keep terrorists out and Israelis safe. However, Grinstein said peace cannot be imposed. A security fence fails to grapple with such important issues as internationally recognized borders and the status of Jerusalem.

Still, Grinstein said Israelis are a resilient people. Although trust in the Palestinians has plummeted, citizens of the Jewish State are hungry for peace and have finally recognized the need for a two-state solution, no matter how painful.

"I believe Israel has a legacy of eventually seizing the moment and making things happen. I am seeing many signs that such a historic moment is getting closer," he said.

Grinstein will be in Los Angeles from Tuesday. Nov.
11-Friday, Nov. 14. To find out more information about Project Re’ut, please
write to gidi@ecf.org.il .

Professional-Lay Relations Need Examining


When people query me as to who our clients are, if the person is Jewish, I often answer, “Half our clients are Jewish organizations. And the other half are people who treat us really nicely.”

Almost always people laugh at the response. Once, however, at a Jewish event in San Francisco, someone told me I was anti-Semitic. My answer to her? “Being realistic about our organizational issues doesn’t make me an anti-Semite.”

Jewish organizations have many issues. But after having worked with more than 100 of them, in the United States, Israel and around the world, I have come to the conclusion that among the top priority issues is how we interact with one another. In the process of pursuing tikun olam (repairing the world), I have seen more Jewish organizations destroy the Jewish spirit of the individuals involved. While they are busy saving the people “out there” they are chopping up the ones close to them.

This is no secret. Any of us who has been involved in organized Jewish life has witnessed this reality, if not personally been subjected to it. Yet, it is like the elephant in the living room that sits heavily in the midst of everything, and everyone wants to tiptoe around it, ignoring its presence. No one wants to publicly speak of the obvious.

I do.

And it is time the rest of us do, too. We must put the issue of inter-personal relations within organized Jewish life on the public agenda. I realized this on Yom Kippur. At one point in the service, our astute young rabbi opened up a public discussion from the bimah about business ethics in view of Enron, Tyco and Global Crossing. After a few minutes of discussion, I raised my hand and said, “We have an issue of business ethics in the Jewish organizational business — the ethics of how we treat one another.” For the rest of the day, people, many of them prominent in the community, continued to approach me, commenting on how correct I was, or asking me to explain further what I believed the issues were. I realized there is a great collective need in our community to explore this matter.

With all the exposure I have had to this issue and all the trans-continental and international airline seats I have occupied after meeting with my clients, I have given this a great deal of thought and weary reflection.

Where does it begin? At the core of Jewish organizational structure is a very particular professional-lay relationship. Notice I have turned its common parlance around and have not called it the “lay-professional relationship.” Describing it as the lay-professional relationship basically states the problem.

In Jewish institutions, as opposed to my non-Jewish clients, the lay people have a lot more hands-on day-to-day involvement with the organization. In many cases this is extraordinary and bespeaks a very heartfelt level of commitment. We would not be the community we are today without this level of lay involvement. Yet, it is not without its problems. And we cannot be afraid or intimidated to approach those problems.

Lay-professional means the lay people are primary. Primary over those who devote their studies, professions and career goals to Jewish life. It says that who gives the money or sits on a committee is more important than who builds a lifetime of service, giving 18 professional hours a day, weekends and holidays (yes, even Jewish ones) servicing what that money actually does.

People will say I am splitting hairs, that it is an equal relationship. But in most cases, we know this is simply not true. The question this begs is: Who really holds control?

When we work with a Jewish organization, there are four words that we most often hear from the professionals throughout the working relationship, as we approach the decision-making process. “But the lay people….” It is a constant mantra. The professionals shake with fear and uncertainty when they say these words. I have come to realize that these four words stifle their creativity, their leadership, their thinking, their self-confidence and their professionalism. I cannot count how many meetings I have sat in where the professionals, who possess the most knowledge, sit silently while their lay counterparts “run” the meeting. This fear and absence of control by the professionals inhibits the Jewish enterprise from being all it can be. There must be important decisions which professionals are allowed to guide, and in some cases are left alone to make.

This issue rarely arises in non-Jewish organizations.

These thoughts are in no way to discount the importance of lay people in Jewish organizational life. It is a partnership. Lay people fund the existence of this enterprise. Good lay people understand the issues, are committed, knowledgeable and integral to the vision, flourishing and survival of the enterprise. However, like in any partnership, roles must be clearly defined. If one partner is shorn of his or her decision-making responsibilities, particularly when he or she understands the issue or situation at hand better than anyone in the room, the partnership is not healthy.

In a changing world, where the Jewish enterprise is threatened on many levels, it is time that the partnership be examined, restructured and publicly addressed. There needs to be respect for the professional’s professionalism, insight, knowledge and vision. The schools training the professionals must meet the challenge of professionals trained to actually lead, not just follow and serve.

From this partnership flows the nature and culture of Jewish organizations. If we begin tikun olam at this level, then we can begin to repair what else needs to be fixed.

Torah values of how we treat one another must be integrated into this restructuring process. There needs to be a code of conduct. Professionals need to be trained in this code as to how to treat fellow professionals, employees and lay counterparts. Lay people need to be trained in this code as to how to treat the professionals as well as each other, including those lay people who are not major funders. In some cases, we actually need to civilize and Judaize our organizational behavior.

We need to call for a conference to address the issue.

Papers must be published in both professional and general Jewish publications which begin to create a new organizational culture. We must open the discussion for robust and healthy debate. Respectfully.

We must create manuals and codes. We have to establish training sessions. How we treat one another is as important as how we save one another.

I am certain someone will ask why, if I find this relationship so distasteful, do I continue to pursue Jewish organizations as clients? I am them. And they are me. I am bound at the hip to the Jewish enterprise. From our perch as marketers, delving deeply into their souls and operations I see Jewish organizations as nothing short of extraordinary, paving the path for daily miracles. I am proud of these organizations and to be playing such an integral role.

I just want to see us be all we can be.

Gary Wexler is an advertising executive and consultant to Jewish agencies.

Deaths in the Family


Whenever one of our writers or contributors — or I myself — use the term "Jewish community," I think of Lew Wasserman. An interviewer once asked the former MCA chairman and power broker about the Jewish community here. Wasserman shot back: "I don’t know of a Jewish community. It is nonexistent."

What Wasserman meant, I assume, was that the Jews of Los Angeles don’t cohere into a single, like-minded political mass, a "structured community," in his words. And in that he was right: If 100 Martians landed beside 100 different L.A. Jews and said, "Take me to your leader," no doubt they’d end up at 50 different addresses. Maybe 100.

But to say we’re not easily led or defined doesn’t mean there’s no there there. After all, community is not something that exists apart from our creation of it, or apart from our individual efforts to connect with those around us who share the same values, interests, history. To a certain extent, you inherit community, but more importantly you help create it.

For Rebecca Amato Levy and Myrtle Karp, that creation was a lifelong endeavor.

I met Levy several years ago while preparing an article on Passover. A warm, energetic woman, she welcomed me into her daughter Mati Franco’s Beverly Hills home with a plate of precisely shaped butter cookies she had just made. Levy, then 85 years old, was the matriarch of a vast, yet tightknit, group of Sephardic Jews, and their ever-expanding families, who had lived in Rhodes. She fled in 1939, just before Hitler’s troops murdered all but 150 of the Greek island’s 2,000 Jewish inhabitants. The community she cherished was gone, but Levy worked to recreate it by passing on its food and traditions.

Two weeks before that Passover, Levy had called a friend and said, "I feel terrible."

"Is it your phlebitis?" the woman asked.

"No," Levy said. "It’s my oven." If she was unable to cook Quajado de Spinaka de Pesach for the masses, how would they acquire a taste of the Old Country?

Fluent in Turkish, Ladino, English, French, Spanish and, of course, Greek, she passed on her traditions through books and video, but mostly through example — cooking for hundreds at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood, participating in an annual Rhodesli trip to Catalina, teaching the next generation the beauty of its heritage.

Myrtle Karp was a different kind of activist: intensely energetic, devoted to fundraising and organizing, and expert at both.

Her mother’s death forced her as a teenager to become the matriarch of her own family, and she lived out that role in adulthood, taking on key roles in the United Jewish Fund, Hadassah, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Jewish Family Service.

Women of Karp and Levy’s generation rarely led in the way a Lew Wasserman did. Their power lay in volunteerism, hard work and example. They created the structure of a community through which others could express their own Jewish identity.

Myrtle Karp died Aug. 2 at the age of 92; Rebecca Amato Levy passed away on Saturday morning, Aug. 4, at her daughter Mati’s home. She was 89. No such thing as a Jewish community? Lew Wasserman’s dictum would be Greek to both of them.

Obituaries for both women are on page 33.

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