Dr. Ihab Mansoure. Photo courtesy of Yad Sarah

Compassion Is Part of Treatment

For most of us, dental work is not at the top of our wish list. But for patients treated by Dr. Ihab Mansoure through Yad Sarah, a visit from the dentist could just be their greatest wish.

Mansoure, 56, who specializes in geriatric dentistry, attends patients throughout the southern region of Israel, from Be’er Sheva to Ofakim, Ashdod to Arad. But she doesn’t have an office — she brings the office to her patients.

A Christian-Israeli Arab from the old city of Akko, Mansoure performs critical dental work on the homebound on behalf of Israel’s well-known health and humans services organization. With her massive army-grade gray suitcase, her Romanian driver, British dispatcher and Russian dental hygienist, she shleps around the largest region of Israel with her mobile dental clinic. She has extensive equipment, from X-rays to drills, and can perform a vast array of procedures in-home, except for oral surgery. A dental MacGyver, she never says no to a patient in need, even if she has to rig a supportive procedure-ready chair out of a broom and a couch cushion.

She estimates about 99 percent of her patients are elderly, an often forgotten or neglected demographic. With an otherworldly empathy, Mansoure doesn’t treat only her patients’ mouths, she treats their overall condition.

She recounted some of the challenges she has experienced firsthand in watching her parents age. “I remember the first time I had to put my father’s socks on, he cried,” she said. “He didn’t say anything. He just cried.”

She intimately understands that her patients are struggling to accept their limited independence and myriad of health issues. She knows that this respectful understanding is the key to her success. As she says, “It starts from the mental state. If the head and heart don’t accept you, they won’t accept your help and treatment.”

“I always said, if every person gives a little, everything would be totally different.”— Ihab Mansoure

So how does a Christian-Arab female dentist from Akko who studied in Romania end up working for Israel’s premier health and welfare nonprofit in Be’er Sheva? She listened to the radio and to her heart. Fresh out of dental school, Mansoure was driving from Akko to Jerusalem when she heard the ad that would change her life. Yad Sarah, well known for its rehabilitation services, was opening a new dental services initiative and looking for volunteers. She called immediately, and for more than 20 years has been an integral part of the Yad Sarah dental program.

Mansoure started with Yad Sarah as a volunteer. One day a week, she would close her dental clinic in Rahad, a Bedouin town near Be’er Sheva with a population of 70,000, and jump in her Yad Sarah mobile clinic and serve patients throughout the south. After 10 years as a volunteer, she joined the organization full time. Today, she spends three days a week based in Be’er Sheva traveling around the south, two days at the Yad Sarah dental clinic in Jerusalem and her weekends at home in Akko.

Compassion, healing and volunteerism are obvious to her, an innate and significant component of her being. Mansoure repeats her life’s mantra: “I always said, if every person gives a little, everything would be totally different.” Yad Sarah is the last stop for those navigating services in Israel’s health care sector. Mansoure knows these are the people she is meant to serve: “I grew up in a house that emphasized the interplay of whomever haves versus whomever needs.”

As Mansoure recounts story after story of the special patients she has met along the way, one can start to feel a bit of what it must be like to be visited by this angel of healing. The respect she has for each individual, the empathy for each situation, and the care and compassion to solve someone’s problems is something that can’t be taught in dental school. Beyond the white lab coat and dental drill is a sensitive woman who looks you in the eye and listens to your soul. Mansoure is the rare dentist who patients look forward to seeing again and again.

Lysann Bendel

Staying in Israel at Great Cost

Lysann Bendel was in the middle of her conversion process to Judaism when she caught a glimpse of her grandfather on a TV screen.

Living in Israel, she was watching German television as it documented the 2001 inauguration of the new synagogue in her hometown of Dresden on the site of the old synagogue, which the Nazis burned to the ground during the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms. She always knew her grandfather was a Dresden firefighter who tried to battle of the infamous 1945 firestorm that destroyed Dresden’s Baroque Old City, and which took the lives of his first wife and two children.

She never knew until that moment that her grandfather could have been one of three firefighters who saved the only remnant of the synagogue: the golden Jewish star ornament. Her research confirmed that he was involved in hiding it during the war.

“I’ve been asking myself very often why should he actually risk his family’s life,” the blue-eyed Bendel said at a Tel Aviv café, sporting a funky, dirty-blond buzz cut. Her tan is a testament to her life in Israel. “I never had an idea of being Jewish or part of that. So I asked myself what brings his family to rescue the Star of David, hiding it from the Nazis, for eff-ing sake. I seriously believe that my grandfather knew about his Jewish roots. There is no other thing that makes sense to me.”

Bendel, 38, didn’t think she had Jewish roots when she moved to Israel on a whim in 1999. Her last name is the only real clue. She describes her childhood growing up in the former East German city as “beautiful.” Back then, Dresden was hardly rebuilt, and she fondly remembers driving in a “Trabi” (East German car brand Trabant) to surrounding lakes. But she never felt like she truly belonged. Germans are known for being reserved and withdrawn. She’s talkative and inquisitive, perhaps a symptom of her “Jewish soul.”

But life in Israel, while spiritually satisfying, has not been easy. She persisted through the intifadas and wars because of her love for the place. Currently, she works at an entry-level position at a software company to make ends meet, having had to abandon Holocaust studies at Bar-Ilan University. She paints in her free time in her Tel Aviv flat, but lately has been catching herself wondering what life would be like in Germany. Sometimes, she even has a case of “Ostalgia,” “nostalgia” for the communal life of East Germany.

“Tel Aviv is the only place my individuality stays the way it is. ” — Lysann Bendel

“To stay in Israel comes at a great cost,” she said. A few months ago, she suffered a stroke, arguably from stress. “I understood in the last two years that we pay a price for everything we do; for me, it’s health and finance. It’s much harder in Israel to make your dreams come true than in Germany. There, I would have never stopped my Ph.D. to make money.”

But no matter how stressful life is in Israel, this creative spirit feels at home, especially in Tel Aviv.

“Tel Aviv is the only place my individuality stays the way it is. In others place I’ve lived in Israel so far, I’m ‘the German,’ ‘the blonde,’ ‘the cute girl.’ ”

Her divorced parents still live in Dresden, unable to truly identify with her Zionism. She considers herself a type of ambassador for both countries, continuing an ongoing process of reconciliation between the Jewish people and Germany.

“Actually, the first years in Israel, I was always asked about, ‘What did your grandparents do?’ Now, it’s: ‘What are you doing here?’ ”

In her case, it’s because of her grandfather that a firestorm still rages in her heart for Israel. He died when she was young, but he always reminded her of the pain and destruction of World War II, and how the next generations must make sure it never happens again.

“I believe he’s my guardian angel in life. Everything seems to be linked to him.”

Eran Pick. Photo by Yair Shvartz

From UC Davis to the Judean Hills

As a 22-year-old helicopter pilot in Israel’s air force, Eran Pick went to Germany for his annual simulation test, where he discovered something rather unexpected: Wine.

When his morning military duties concluded, Pick, now 43, spent his afternoons wandering the wineries of Germany’s Mosel region — best known for the sweet, aromatic Riesling grape — where he fell in love with the fruit lauded by Jewish scripture and blessed every Shabbat.

“Wine for me is about people and place,” Pick said from the tasting room at Israel’s Tzora Vineyards, based in the Judean Hills, where he serves as winemaker and general manager. In viticulture, place is everything; the French term terroir describes the way soil, topography and climate interact with one another to produce flavor — and is the essential raw ingredient needed for winemaking.

Pick’s passion for viticulture could not have found a more fitting home than Israel itself, a country defined so completely by the sacred magic of land. But although grapes have ancient roots in Israel — perhaps as far back as biblical times — Israeli wines have not generally been known for their excellence.

“Israeli wine doesn’t have a shelf in the wine store,” Pick said. “It’s on the kosher shelf, which is not where we want to be.”

Pick is part of a new generation of winemakers who are well trained and well traveled and working feverishly to distinguish Israeli wine as something special. Today, there are nearly 350 wineries in Israel, most of them small, boutique operations, contributing to an annual output of nearly 65 million bottles. An estimated 30 wineries are now producing what is considered “fine wine.” But Pick remains the only winemaker in Israel to bear the distinguished title “Master of Wine” conferred on only 368 people in the world.

After serving in the military, Pick earned his degree in viticulture and enology at UC Davis, and trained in some of the world’s great wine regions, including Napa, Sonoma, Barossa (Australia) and Bordeaux (France). Early in his career, he received a chance invitation to work at the illustrious Chateau Lafite Rothschild in France, established by passionate Zionist Edmond de Rothschild, who invested heavily in the State of Israel and established its modern winemaking. In 2006, Pick landed the job at Tzora, considered one of Israel’s emerging wineries, prized for its choice location in the Judean Hills near Jerusalem.

“Israeli wine doesn’t have a shelf in the wine store.” — Eran Pick

Pick is traditional in his tastes. He grows and blends classic grape varietals such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, even as a growing number of Israeli vintners are looking to differentiate Israeli wine by cultivating indigenous grapes. In 2015, the Recanati winery made headlines when it unveiled a brand new white wine made from the Marawi grape, native to the West Bank and grown by Palestinians. A mix of fascination and controversy ensued; that same year, Europe announced new guidelines demanding products from the West Bank be labeled as such rather than “Made in Israel,” and Canada issued a similar edict. Still, Israeli oenologist Eliyashiv Drori, who works at Ariel University, has uncovered nearly 120 unique varietals that winemakers are eager to deploy in the landscape.

Pick has no interest in that pursuit. “I do not believe in that,” he said. “I believe we should produce world-class wines, which means for me using blends of varieties that grow well here. I want to make a great wine from the Judean Hills that characterizes the DNA of the Judean Hills.”

Pick’s focus on quality has served him well. In 2016, Wine Spectator named Tzora’s “Misty Hills” red (2013) the best wine in Israel; its 2014 white placed third. Tzora now produces around 100,000 bottles of wine each year, the vast majority of which are sold in Israel, with another 20 percent exported.

Although Pick is a passionate evangelist for Israeli wine, he confesses the holy grail he keeps in his cellar is a 2000 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, presented to him as a gift during the summer he worked there. Asked what occasion might merit drinking it, Pick laughed and said, “I’ll never open it.”

Eyal Biram. Photo by Jonathan Lee

Dispatching ‘Ambassadors’ for Israel

Eyal Biram has deep roots in Israel; his family’s presence in the region can be traced back eight generations on both sides. “I think it’s amazing, something unique in Israel. Most of the people are immigrants,” he said. His father’s family is from Hebron; his mother’s, Jerusalem. His maternal great-great grandfather, Yoel Moshe Salomon, was the founder of Petah Tiqvah. Israel is in his DNA.

Biram grew up on a small moshav (agricultural settlement) called Ramot haShavim in the center of the country. He said the highlight of his early years was spending 12 years with the youth movement Haichud Hahaklai (Agricultural Union). By the time he graduated from high school, he had decided to delay military service in order to do a year of volunteer work with the youth movement. “Now, it was my turn to give to the children like all the guys who did that for me,” Biram said.

With his year of volunteer national service complete, Biram felt more “mature, more ready to start my army service,” he said. Biram was drafted into an elite combat unit, and, after two years of regular service, as intended, went on to become an officer.

He served in the military for six years, double the mandatory three years for men, and was discharged at age 26. “I was worried that I would get out of the army when I was very old. But during my service, I realized how much the army gives me skills for life,” Biram said. “I think my six years in the army was equal to 12 years in civilian life.”

After the intensity of serving in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Biram needed a break. He was granted a three-month leave to travel and clear his head. This sojourn to the Far East would provide him with an “aha moment” he never could have foreseen.

While in the Philippines, Biram had a short but life-changing conversation with a local Filipino in a bar. He said that this young man had heard a lot about Israel on the news but had never met an Israeli. During their brief encounter, Biram realized he had an incredible power: the power to shift people’s perceptions of Israel.

“They didn’t know that it wasn’t at war all the time,” Biram said. “They didn’t understand the complexities of Israel, that it’s not just black and white.”

Biram isn’t just an officer, he is also a diplomat.

It is an Israeli cultural phenomenon to take long trips to far-flung places after being discharged from the military. Indeed, the Israeli post-discharge backpacker has become ubiquitous from South America to Southeast Asia. In these backpackers, Biram saw a built-in distribution network for soft diplomacy, and he returned to the military determined to realize this potential.

“I think my six years in the army was equal to 12 years in civilian life.” — Eyal Biram

As Israel increasingly is losing the battle to project a positive public image, Biram is at the forefront of advocacy innovation.

“With the thousands of Israelis traveling abroad, we have a specific and efficient way to make great hasbarah (advocacy) for Israel, but no one has used this before,” he said.

While still in the army, Biram began to plan to harness the post-discharge traveler’s potential. He quickly found friends and mentors to support his idea of training soldiers pre- and post-discharge in basic communication and advocacy tools. After being discharged in June 2017, he launched the nongovernmental organization ISRAELis, working in full cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces and other educational partners to prepare Israeli soldiers to act as “ambassadors” during their post-discharge trips.

By July 2018, ISRAELis is projected to have 30,000 soldiers complete a one-hour training as part of their official mandatory discharge educational program. “Most of our work is teaching them that they are actually ambassadors. We give them the tools to tell their personal stories [and] include Israel in order to make a positive impact in this encounter.”

ISRAELis offers an advanced, full-day workshop for those who want to delve deeper, and these men and women form the basis of the travelers network. A digital platform of resources also is planned to launch this year.

And Biram, like most Israelis his age, already has a few trips planned.

Natalie Silverlieb

An Israeli at the Ends of the Earth

When Natalie Silverlieb told her mother that she was moving to Vanuatu, her mother’s first response was “Vanu-what?” followed by, “Why?”

Silverlieb’s family and friends — as well as her husband, who did not join her on the 10-month trip — were puzzled as to why the New Jersey native would uproot her life in Tel Aviv to live in a remote island nation in the South Pacific. (On her recent return home to Tel Aviv, she had to travel for three days through five countries, covering 10,000 miles.)

Fewer than a dozen Israelis live in Vanuatu, but Silverlieb moved there a year ago to become a local director for the humanitarian aid agency IsraAID. She now oversees a large-scale water infrastructure development project funded by the World Bank.

In the time she’s been stationed in Vanuatu, Silverlieb has had to adjust to living in a developing nation, as well as its volcanic rumblings and cyclones.

Her mother, a world away in Montville, N.J., worries about her, but that’s nothing new. Her mother worried when Silverlieb made aliyah to Israel in 2012, when she spent time at a Jewish camp on a small Turkish island in the middle of the Bosphorus, and when she volunteered for six months in an Indian orphanage.

The ultimate adventurer, Silverlieb has always been audacious and relentless in following her passions. She was an actress for most of her life, pursuing her dream all the way to the Great White Way. After more auditions than she could count, she made it to Broadway as the female lead understudy for Disney’s “Tarzan.”

“I literally thought I’d die an old lady backstage in my dressing room,” Silverlieb said of her commitment to being a professional actress.

But in 2007, after “Tarzan” closed, Silverlieb’s brother, Sam, persuaded her to go on a Birthright Israel trip, which proved transformative. When she returned to New York and got back on the audition trail, her life didn’t make much sense anymore. It was time for a new dream.

Trusting her intuition and her heart, Silverlieb moved to Israel, where she quickly began to understand some of the reasons why she was drawn to the Jewish state. For her, tikkun olam (repairing the world) was a flag to rally behind. She sought a way to combine her performance background with her budding commitment to social justice.

Silverlieb has had to adjust to living in a developing nation, as well as its volcanic rumblings and cyclones.

After completing her master’s degree in international community development at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Silverlieb started to focus on international development. She supported Jewish communities in such places as Bulgaria, Greece and India through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and started working in the field with IsraAID after the 2016 Canadian wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

“I feel like I got really lucky,” she said. “I’ve always admired IsraAID’s work.”

A few months later, with two suitcases in hand, she was on her way to Vanuatu.

Silverlieb said she is inspired and humbled to “put my values into action through a Jewish and Israeli lens.”

She may be an international development professional by trade, but by nature she’s a true diplomat, proud to be an “ambassador” representing Israel and Jews in one of the most remote locales on the planet.

The people of Vanuatu put Israel on a pedestal, she said. “They’ve studied the Bible. They know it’s the Holy Land.”

For now, Silverlieb has signed on to continue her work in Vanuatu, despite being homesick for Israel every day — “the food, the culture, the little Hebrew I can speak, the holidays — you know, it’s just your home.”

In February, when she returns to Vanuatu, her husband will join her.

Then, maybe, her mother might worry a little bit less.

Caroline Schuhl Schattner

Settler Opens Her Home to Peace

Fourteen years ago, during the Second Intifada, Caroline Schuhl Schattner of Toulouse, France, felt the time had come to realize her Zionist dream. Frustrated with French news media coverage that made Israel out to be the aggressor during the prolonged uprising, she moved to Israel intent on becoming an actor in Israeli history, not a bystander.

Schuhl Schattner enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and joined a combat rescue unit. Today, at the age of 34, with a master’s degree in linguistics, a husband and three children, she lives in Efrat, a largely Modern Orthodox town in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, where she continues to work at making peace.

Every two weeks she hosts informal meetings in her home between Palestinians and Israeli settlers living in and around Gush Etzion, a flashpoint in 2015-16 for what is sometimes known as the “Knife Intifada,” a period when Palestinians regularly stabbed, shot and ran over random Israelis in the streets.

Schuhl Schattner believes that many Palestinians reject such violence, and she is determined to get Israeli Jews to know them, and for them to get to know Israeli Jews.

“I saw that Jews and Arabs live in the region and I see how they see each other — in business, at the shopping center — but they don’t know each other,” Schuhl Schattner said in phone interview from her home in Efrat. “Even though they meet via commerce, Jews have a stereotypical view of Arabs and Arabs have a stereotypical view of Jews. I thought that it’s a shame. We all live here, and we’ll all continue to live here.”

Schuhl Schattner was recently appointed project manager for olim [immigrants] at the Gush Etzion Regional Council. Her work with Palestinians is her personal initiative that she began a year ago.

Recently, she led a joint Israeli-Palestinian olive harvest in the village of Kfar Hussan.

“Most of the Palestinians, they’re people who want to live well — that’s what’s important to them,” she said. “And part of the good and simple life is to live in harmony with the Jews. Many of them don’t have extreme political views. If you succeed in having Jews and Palestinians meet each other, and the Palestinian sees the Jew is not the enemy, he’ll break out of his stereotypical view, and vice versa.”

The joint harvest produced a Facebook friendship between a young Israeli and a Palestinian, who are not allowed by Palestinian law to meet in person. Palestinians must receive permission from Israeli authorities to enter Israeli towns, but the Palestinian Authority can imprison Palestinians who interact socially with Israelis.

“Part of the good and simple life [for most of these Palestinians] is to live in harmony with the Jews.” — Caroline Schuhl Schattner

These days, about 20 to 30 people meet in Schuhl Schattner’s home for coffee, cookies, cake and conversations about topics that are generally taboo at the table: religion and politics. At the meetings, Palestinians often relay their frustrations with living under IDF controls that limit their freedom of movement, while Israelis express their fear of the terrorism and violence that make such security measures necessary. But participants from both groups generally agree that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have the Palestinians’ best interests at heart — it seeks to thwart attempts at normalization in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and it feeds off conflict.

Schuhl Schattner said some of her friends and neighbors have been skeptical about her efforts, but she remains undeterred, encouraged by the story of one of her Palestinian friends whose brother was released from prison 10 years ago after serving a term for terrorist activity. After the friend introduced his brother to his Jewish friends, the brother’s hatred of Israel and Jews faded.

“I don’t care how much hate you instill in someone’s head,” Schuhl Schattner said. “If you have a good meeting, that’s what stays.”

Photo by Deborah Danan

The Angel of Jaffa

Anyone who has toured the ancient streets of Jaffa has seen the graffiti stenciled indiscriminately on crumbling archways and fancy residential blocks alike: a heart nestled between two wings and the declaration, “There are angels in Jaffa.”

According to the aptly named Gabriel Rosenthal, a self-proclaimed “human angel,” the inspiration behind the street art is the idea that everyone has the potential to become an angel.

“The way to become an angel is to be enlightened,” she said, taking a deep drag of her Marlboro.

Rosenthal lives in a tiny, narrow studio a stone’s throw from Jaffa’s famed clock tower, its walls adorned with hundreds of fairy lights, crystals and the ubiquitous angel stencils. There also are images of crowns and lighthouses, homages to Rosenthal’s previous “incarnations.”

“I was a queen, but wouldn’t you agree it’s better to be a human angel?” she deadpanned.

As for the lighthouse, Rosenthal, 65, still considers herself to be one. “Every person is a ship and needs to reach the shore. One lighthouse can save many ships that have gotten lost,” she said.

A woman with a larger-than-life personality, Rosenthal sports umpteen ribbons and flowers that compete for the front row of her peroxide tresses while her neck tattoo of a crown ripples in the folds of leathery skin that has seen too much sun.

There’s a magnetism to Rosenthal that draws people to her, as attested during the interview when two women passed by her window and hollered, “Angel! Are you there?” Later, both women confided that Rosenthal saved their lives.

“I’m a mirror,” Rosenthal said. “I see where the problem is in people and tell them how to fix it.”

Her bumper-sticker philosophies are delivered with such earnestness one cannot help but take them to heart as if they were novel ideas. “It is our natural right to be happy all our lives,” she said. “The past doesn’t matter; life starts now.”

Living in the now is a recurrent theme for Rosenthal, who says that if there were a contest for being in the present, “I get first prize. First, first, first.”

Of the 18 careers she claims to have — mentor, mystic, spiritual healer, producer, hairdresser and more — being a revolutionary is the standout. So perhaps it’s no accident that Rosenthal was born in Cairo on the day that King Farouk was deposed in 1952 and the Egyptian Revolution kicked off. A year later, her parents moved with her to Tel Aviv. At 13, she became engaged, marrying five years later — and divorcing four years after that, taking with her two sons and a new Ashkenazi last name.

“It is our natural right to be happy all our lives.”  — Gabriel Rosenthal

It was to be another 42 years before Rosenthal would return to her birthplace. By then, she’d visited some 64 countries — not a single trip planned in advance, she said. And when she finally made an impromptu excursion into Sinai, it was with the vague idea of lying on a secluded beach for just a couple of weeks. That stretched into two months — and then into half a decade after she met a man named Mustafa while waiting for her taxi back to the Israeli border.

Mustafa owned a stretch of beach close to Nuweiba in the eastern part of the Sinai Peninsula. He told her to live there as long as she wished and provided her with two servants to cook her meals. It was there, she said, that she became known as Aisha, a reference to one of Muhammad’s wives.

It was also there that Rosenthal learned to become a builder — another of her 18 careers. With the help of Mustafa’s staff, Rosenthal built some 60 hushot, or beach huts, and turned the Sondos (“Green Village”) camp into a luxury getaway, at least by Sinai standards. Very soon, the place was filled with the kind of Israeli backpackers who were more interested in glamping than camping.

Running Sondos camp — and overseeing the occasional sulha (dispute resolution) between warring Sinai tribes — was Rosenthal’s life before she decided to finally catch that taxi back to Israel.

Today, Rosenthal has no intention of slowing down.

“You could say I’m a modern-day messiah,” she said. “But I was brought into this world first and foremost to be happy and then to teach other people to be happy.”