Kibbutz attacker tells court stabbing was an accident

An Arab-Israeli man arrested for a stabbing attack at a northern Israeli kibbutz said the attack was an accident.

Ala Mhamed Zwid, 20, said through his attorney on Monday in Haifa District Court that he accidentally ran over two soldiers at a bus stop in Kibbutz Gan Shmuel near Hadera on Sunday night before stabbing several people while trying to protect himself, Ynet reported.

Zwid, of the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, located 12 miles from the scene of the attack, stabbed one of the soldiers he hit with his car, a 19-year-old woman. She remains in critical condition and on life support.

Dozens of demonstrators marched in Hadera on Sunday night after the stabbings to protest the dangerous security situation.

Polio virus spreads to northern Israel

A strain of the polio virus was found in wastewater near Hadera, meaning the virus has spread to the north of Israel.

The discovery comes two weeks into a national vaccination project to inoculate Israeli children aged 9 and under with a weakened form of the live virus. The vaccination project, scheduled to last three months, has been expanded from southern Israel to central and northern Israel.

As of Wednesday, 182,000 children have been vaccinated with the live virus. The children already have been inoculated against polio in their regular childhood vaccinations.

The campaign is in response to the discovery in May of the polio virus in wastewater in Israel’s South that reportedly had been there since February. The virus was found about a month ago in wastewater in central Israel.

The purpose of the extra vaccine is to pass the weakened virus to adults with whom the children come into contact who may not previously have been vaccinated.

It is believed the virus was brought to Israel from Egypt; polio was discovered in sewage in Egypt in December. The same virus also is prevalent in Pakistan.

Garden wedding in Israel

When Miriam Sushman and her then-fiancé, Owen, were planning a summer wedding, they searched for an outdoor venue that would reflect their love of nature. 

“Israel is such a beautiful country, and I couldn’t imagine not getting married outdoors if the weather was nice. Also, we both love nature and enjoy hiking,” said Sushman, a photographer.

The couple ultimately opted for a garden wedding at Neot Kedumim, the biblical landscape reserve in Israel, located about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Lovingly landscaped with indigenous plants mentioned in the bible, the venue “smelled nice,” Sushman said. “The place was beautiful.”

Years later, Sushman still remembers how donkeys brayed while she was under the chuppah (wedding canopy). She also remembers “some gunfire” from Israel soldiers doing military maneuvers in the distance. “I don’t know if that’s on the video,” she said.

Garden weddings, with their unique scents and sounds, are extremely popular in Israel, where rainfall generally doesn’t factor into the equation from May through September.

Thanks to an Ashkenazi custom that is now almost universal in Israel, the majority of Jewish couples hold their actual marriage ceremony outdoors, weather permitting.

Wedding planner Adi Porat, manager of Simcha Maker, says Israeli garden weddings can be magnificent, provided certain steps are taken.

Couples, especially if they’re from abroad, sometimes forget that Israel has a real winter, though not nearly as cold as the ones in the United States or Europe. And Eilat and the Dead Sea are relatively balmy in the winter, though insufferably hot in the summer.

“I would never advise a couple to have an outdoor wedding from the beginning of November till April without a ‘Plan B’ for an indoor space. That way, the chuppah can be outside, with standing heaters if necessary, and the reception can be indoors,” Porat said.

Having an indoor and outdoor option at the same venue is sometimes just as important during the summer months, when daytime temperatures hover between 90 and 100 degrees (and up to 110 in Eilat and the Dead Sea).

“I advise not starting the chuppah before 7 p.m. in the summer, because it’s boiling. A tent is a great idea, but it depends on the client and the weather. There are lovely clear ones today that allow you to see outside, to feel part of the garden.”

Porat suggests ordering food that is appropriate for the season: cold cucumber soup, ice cream and frozen drinks in the summer; hot soups and warm, filling food in the winter.

Like most places around the world, Israel has mosquitoes.

“Mosquitoes can ruin the event,” Porat said, “so a garden venue must spray for mosquitoes the day of the wedding, before the caterer starts arranging gear and plates outside. And make sure there will be coolers and fans, not only on the dance floor but where people will be sitting and eating.”

Riki Metz and her husband, Howard, learned the hard way that fans aren’t always sufficient.

“We got married in August at Kibbutz Tzora, near Beit Shemesh, and it turned out to be an incredibly hot day,” recalled Riki Metz, a holistic healer and jewelry maker.

Beit Shemesh means “house of the sun” in Hebrew, and is hotter and more humid than midtown Manhattan during a heat wave.

The wedding was so hot, Metz said, “that we have photos of a friend with his shirt plastered to his back. The kibbutz now has air-conditioning,” she noted.

Despite the heat, the Metzes have no regrets.

“We fell in love with the venue because it’s in a lovely location, is reasonably priced and is very, very pretty,” Metz said. “The chuppah was on a gentle hill and, unlike many wedding halls, there was lots of room for the guests to be seated.”

At most Israeli weddings, the majority of guests are expected to stand during the wedding ceremony.

Some of the loveliest garden weddings are at kibbutzim, Metz said, but she advised couples to visit the venue a couple of times before booking.

“You have to know where the garden is in relation to the cow shed. If the wind blows in the wrong direction, you’ve got a problem,” she said with a laugh.

Because some garden venues do not like to accept a wedding party of less than 200 guests, couples need to be creative, Porat said.

Hotels can be a good choice for a wedding party of almost any size. Most have beautifully designed outdoor spaces, whether they be gardens or patios. Upscale restaurants are another option. The eateries in the ancient port of Caesarea, for example, offer a sea view and garden access very close to archaeological ruins. 

Regardless of where the event is held, it’s e it on a Sunday, Porat said, because Sunday is a workday in Israel and is less popular with locals.

Tracey Goldstein, who writes the Hatunot blog (, a resource for non-Hebrew-speaking couples, loves garden weddings “because there are so many natural things in the venues, you don’t need to add to the floral décor.”

Garden and other outdoor weddings can also have a Zionist feel to them, said Goldstein, who did event planning in New York before making aliyah.

“They’re reminiscent of the outdoor kibbutz life that flourished here during the early years of the state. What better way to experience this feeling?”

While outdoor weddings are the dream of many couples, Goldstein strongly suggests sticking to locations with indoor/outdoor spaces boasting amenities like indoor plumbing.

“In our minds it sounds great, but you must also think of your guests and whether they’ll mind walking in muddy grounds in their nice clothes. Rustic is cool, till you bring in the logistics,” Goldstein said.

Pupils Vote Yes on Democratic School

Under a classroom’s fluorescent lights, students and teachers scramble to find seats. An important “Parliament session” is under way as together, they hammer out a plan for allocating the school’s activities budget.

The scene is the Hadera Democratic School in Israel, where students take an equal role in deciding not only how and what to study but how the school is run.

As they debate how to spend the $27,000 activities budget, one student writes in neat letters at the top of the blackboard, “order of speakers.” A debate soon breaks out over how much money to spend on the school’s music department, and whether it’s worth purchasing additional acoustic equipment.

Next, the drama teacher asks for additional funds to allow students to see professional theater productions.

One by one, everyone in the room is heard. After much wrangling, a budget is produced for the school year.

The Hadera Democratic School, which receives funding from both public and private sources, was the first of its kind in Israel. Since its founding in 1987 in this city about 60 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, 23 other schools have opened around the country based on its model of democratic education, in which student participation and choice is emphasized.

With its relatively large number of democratic schools, Israel is considered a groundbreaker and leader in the field internationally.

There is growing interest in alternative schools in Israel, where the public school system is mired in a crisis born of poor teaching and disciplinary problems. The Hadera Democratic School has 350 students, with hundreds more on a waiting list.

Most of the students are secular and come from a variety of economic backgrounds. Scholarships help students from poorer families pay the annual tuition of approximately $1,200.

Among the school’s most famous alumni is Gal Fridman, the windsurfer who won Israel’s first Olympic gold medal in 2004.

Based on the idea that children are naturally curious and want to learn, the democratic schools focus on respecting the individual. There is close teacher-student interaction, and teachers — called “educators” by the students — mentor 15 students, in addition to their classroom duties.

With their elders’ help, students guide their own education. The goal is to instill in children the notion that they’re responsible for their choices.

There are no required classes, no grades or required tests. Staff and students are treated as equals and share in school decisions, sitting on a variety of committees that range from the school parliament to a teacher selection committee and a field trip committee.

Teachers say the committees are a key part of the education, teaching students how to analyze situations and make choices: “All these things they normally never have a chance to do,” said Aviva Golan, one of the teachers.

On the field trip committee, for example, it’s the students who hire the bus, organize the food and choose where to go.

Golan, who taught in a traditional school before coming to the Hadera Democratic School, no longer believes in conventional education.

“It’s bankrupt, and I believe children only learn from choice, not when they’re forced,” she said.

At traditional schools, she said, “I saw how I fought with kids instead of teaching them — the whole time telling them to be quiet. I believe kids need to move and play. It’s where the real things happen for them.”

The school itself hums with activity. Everywhere, students — from preschoolers to high school seniors — seem to be on the move. One girl reads a novel on a wooden bench. There are children juggling in the courtyard, while others bounce on pogo sticks.

On break, a group of boys plays soccer in the long sandy field in the center of the campus’ brightly painted buildings. Other students work in the computer lab, housed underground in a concrete bomb shelter.

Mike Moss, 17, came to the school as a disgruntled 11-year-old who was bored and restless in his regular school. He soon felt stimulated in the Hadera school and became active in the music and drama departments.

“I feel I would not be doing half the things I am doing here — preparing for matriculation, the music, the friendships — if I had stayed at regular school,” he said.

However, the Hadera school isn’t for everyone, Moss explained. He said students at the school need self-discipline and open minds.

Chen Shoham, 17, said the school has taught her to take responsibility for her education and her life.

“It’s about freedom as an individual and freedom of choice,” she said. “I do what I want and what I need to do. I’m responsible for my life.”

Shoham sits on the budget committee and helps oversee the budget requests each class submits.

“I’ve learned about priorities,” she said.

Traditional subjects such as math, English and history are taught, but it’s up to the students to decide if they’ll take them. Those who want to can study for the high school matriculation exam, which they need to pass with the highest possible marks to get into college.

The school’s principal, Rami Abramovich, said the students do well on the matriculation exam, but the school doesn’t keep data on how many students pass, because it doesn’t consider the matriculation exam a proper measure of whether a student has been educated well.

Students at the school speak of the value of learning outside of class — from philosophical conversations about the meaning of life to playing in a jazz band.

In contrast to the mainstream Israeli school system, there’s hardly any violence at the Hadera Democratic School.

“It’s because kids don’t feel the need to rebel against anything,” Shoham said.

Parents say they’re relieved to have found a setting where their children can thrive academically and socially.

“We think that regular public schools limit children,” said Hadass Gertman, a performance artist whose 8-year-old daughter attends the Hadera Democratic School. “We heard of children going through very bad experiences in public school, and we wanted her to enjoy learning, to enjoy school.”

Sitting outside the small, detached concrete building where he teaches 4- to 6-year-olds, Ron Vangrick spoke of being drawn to the job after growing disappointed with the mainstream educational framework.

“Education is going through a deep crisis because of a lack of relevance of what were once traditional goals,” such as treating others with respect, he said.

He believes that the unique atmosphere at the Hadera Democratic School contributes to the learning process.

“There’s a feeling of home here,” he explained. “It’s a relatively small place. There’s an atmosphere of living within a tribe. Kids of different ages are together and interact with respect and warmth. There is a feeling of childhood that is very powerful here.”

Abramovich, the principal, said the school works because it allows children to discover their own strengths. There’s learning in everything, he said — from the geometry of passing the ball on the soccer field to the negotiations behind staging a school play.

“Every child has his path and rhythm,” he stressed. “It’s a matter of finding it.”