Bonding with Israel’s fallen heroes

Like most of my friends, I came to Israel on an organized summer program.  For a number of reasons, I switched gears halfway through and became an intern at OneFamily, Israel's leading national organization solely dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families.  I knew that OneFamily did important work, but I could never have imagined how my time there would change my life.   

Operation Protective Edge began immediately after I slipped into my internship role, and my days were filled with shiva calls, visits to injured soldiers, and following the OneFamily staffers from one location to the next to assist in whatever way I could.  As the IDF offensive intensified, and the casualties began to mount, I took on the project of researching and developing profiles for the fallen soldiers.

As I sat there, hour after hour, piecing together the lives of each soldier and reliving the sacrifices they made for the people of Israel, I became invested in the project in a way I never had before.  I was developing a personal connection with each hero. I began to feel as if I knew them all. 

For most of the soldiers, the amount of information available was overwhelming.  I became intimately familiar with their families and friends, the highlights of their army experiences, key moments in their childhoods, and the details of their untimely deaths.  I had too much information, and it became increasingly difficult for me to decide which information to choose to best summarize the lives of these fallen heroes.

But how can you accurately convey a person’s accomplishments, hopes and dreams in a couple of paragraphs? And who was I to be making such decisions?

On the flipside, there were several soldiers for whom I couldn’t find much information at all. I scrambled trying to find something, anything, just to fill up their pages.  Why should these soldiers have an inappropriate tribute simply because there was less information about them on the internet? I felt a strong connection to them and was determined to make it right, turning over every stone to make absolutely sure that they received the respectful send off they deserved.

I believe it was the soldiers’ ages that helped me connect with them so quickly and so deeply.  At the age of 16, I am halfway through high school and have not yet decided which college I want to attend, much less what career I want to pursue.  I have not yet started dating, and my bucket list remains untouched. In essence, I haven’t really begun my life as an adult. 

When I turn 18 and gain legal independence, I will need to chart my path and begin making some important life decisions.  In Israel, young men and women take on adulthood by risking their lives for their country.  In many case, they even give their lives for their country. 

As I drafted 38 profiles for two 18 year olds, five 19 year olds, seventeen 20 year olds, and fourteen 21 year olds who had given their lives to protect the land of Israel and its people, a new reality came into focus for me. 

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, 66 IDF soldiers have fallen in Gaza and countless more have been injured and traumatized for the rest of their lives. All of these soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice, and they were only slightly older than me. 

When I visited the military cemeteries and saw their names on newly dug graves, I felt bereft.  These were names that I came to know.  I felt like I was mourning close friends. 

I came to realize that, in Israel, each death is national a tragedy. It’s not just the parents, siblings, friends, and next of kin that mourn each loss.  The whole nation cries. 

As I reflect on my internship experience, I have to admit that this summer is definitely not what I expected.  Instead of hiking with my friends, I ended up spending most of my time aiding victims of terror and memorializing war heroes.  

Following my internship at OneFamily, I now appreciate Israel in a very different way.  I finally understand the importance of Israel’s constant fight for survival, and how crucial it is to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel and support their families. 

I won’t soon forget the details of those 38 lives that I connected with this summer.  I will keep those heroes alive in my heart always.  

Asher Sebban is a resident of Los Angeles, CA and a junior in high school.  He spent the summer interning at OneFamily (, OneFamily is Israel's leading national organization rebuilding, rehabilitation, and reintegrating the lives of Israel’s injured and bereaved victims of terror and war.

Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service internship in Los Angeles

As she described how amazed she sometimes feels at no longer being afraid of Germans or Austrians, Holocaust survivor Dana Schwartz apologetically patted George Stoellinger — her 22-year-old Austrian driver — on the shoulder.

Schwartz acknowledged how far Germany has come in publicly taking responsibility for nearly destroying European Jewry, and yet, she said, the child in her sometimes asks: “What are they doing being kind to Jews?”

Stoellinger took it all in stride. A Catholic from the small Austrian town of Mattighofen, near the German border, he was driving Schwartz from her Beverly Hills home to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), where she routinely shares her Holocaust story with visiting students and he takes part in a selective program that connects his countrymen with Holocaust memorials worldwide,

Stoellinger has been in Los Angeles for the past year as part of the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service (AHMS). Known as Gedenkdienst in German, AHMS was founded in 1992 by historian Andreas Maislinger, and serves as an alternative to Austria’s compulsory national military service for men. About 50 male and female high school graduates out of 200 applicants per year qualify for the one-year AHMS program, which allows the participants to volunteer at a Holocaust memorial or educational institution abroad. 

According to Stoellinger, who graduated from high school in 2012 and wants to be an automotive engineer, Gedenkdienst is a response to a major gap in Holocaust education in Austria, a country whose government only recently admitted that it was not Hitler’s “first victim,” but rather an accomplice of neighboring Germany. (Much of the government and citizenry welcomed and assisted Nazi troops when they invaded in March 1938 and immediately annexed the country.)

George Stoellinger and LAMOTH employee Katherine Semel in front of the museum’s children’s memorial.  Photo by Jared Sichel

“They want to just push it away as fast as possible,” Stoellinger said of modern Austrians’ reaction to discussion about the Holocaust. “No one is comfortable with the topic. You can feel it everywhere.”

Although he said many of his countrymen visit the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in northern Austria, Stoellinger said that few Austrians ever meet any survivors or hear firsthand accounts. Instead, they learn about the Holocaust in the context of the rest of Austrian and European history.

“We never get to talk to a Holocaust survivor,” Stoellinger said. “We know all the historical facts, but it doesn’t make that much sense for me because you can’t keep them in mind. If you talk to a Holocaust survivor you can relate to their story.”

Speaking with the Journal via Skype from near Salzburg, Austria, Tobias Aigner — the North America coordinator for AHMS — echoed Stoellinger’s frustrations with his country’s Holocaust education. Aigner was in the same program as Stoellinger in 2012, working for a year at the American Jewish Committee in New York City.

“We focus a lot on the Middle Ages and the Stone Age, but we hardly have any time to talk about the Second World War,” Aigner said. “People are like, ‘Don’t talk to me about this. It’s uncomfortable.’ ”

Because of limited funding from the country’s Ministry of the Interior, AHMS can only afford to send about 50 participants per year to dozens of Holocaust education institutions throughout the world. This year, Aigner said, there are 10 partnering institutions in the United States.

And because the stipend these young Austrians get for a year abroad is only about $11,000, interns like Stoellinger often need to rely on family for additional support, which means this program is too costly for many to attend.

“It’s very important to give young Austrians the opportunity to deal with their own history and to learn the history of their grandpas and grandmas,” Aigner said. “It’s very important to learn from the past.”

Samara Hutman, LAMOTH’s executive director, feels that just “the existence of the program itself is a powerful piece of the work” that Austrians must do to come to terms with their country’s past.

LAMOTH has been an AHMS partner since 2007, with Stoellinger being the sixth Austrian intern to work at the museum. The other local AHMS partner is the USC Shoah Foundation, where Manuel Müller recently began a one-year position as an intern.

The selection and training for applicants is rigorous, Aigner said. Stoellinger, for example, first applied as a junior in high school but was only eligible to begin the program after extensive preparation, which included reading books by authors such as Primo Levi and Simon Wiesenthal, watching films such as “The Pianist” and attending a ceremony at Auschwitz in 2012 that commemorated that concentration camp’s 1945 liberation by Soviet forces.

His many duties at America’s oldest Holocaust museum include translating German documents, handling and cataloguing artifacts, leading tour groups and photographing events.

Stoellinger with Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler in Studio City.

While exploring the museum’s archive room, he rifled through some Nazi documents that he was helping to translate from German to English. He began reading aloud one headline from “Observer of the Citizen,” a Nazi propaganda newspaper:

“A real Jew on the throne of the United States. Behind Roosevelt there’s Rosenbaum,” Stoellinger translated.

Stoellinger reading from the Nazi propaganda newspaper, “Observer of the Citizen.”

On the same day, Hutman asked Stoellinger to give a tour to a group of four people not so dissimilar from himself — visiting interns from the German consulate also living in Los Angeles for the first time. Outside, at the museum’s Children’s Memorial — where 1.2 million holes are drilled into the stone walls to memorialize the children murdered by the Nazis — Stoellinger and the German interns compared and contrasted the attitudes toward Holocaust education in Germany and Austria.

Inside, Stoellinger walked them through “The World That Was,” an exhibit that details what life was like for Jews in Europe before the rise of Nazism. Standing next to the room’s memory pool — a massive tabletop touch screen that allows visitors to view tens of thousands of photographs and read biographies of pre-war Jewish life in Europe — Stoellinger answered questions and exhibited the remarkable depth of knowledge he has acquired during his year interning at the museum.

At one exhibit, an intern from the German consulate laughed at a Nazi propaganda poster that he considered particularly absurd: comparisons of inferior “Jewish” facial features to superior “Aryan” facial features. How did the Nazis not understand, the German intern asked rhetorically, that religion and nationality are not mutually exclusive? That one can be both a German and a Jew?

Stoellinger’s internship ends next month, and he will return to Europe to attend engineering school in Munich. And while the museum already has his successor lined up, Stoellinger said he’s thinking about visiting Los Angeles over Christmas break and possibly volunteering at the museum for a couple of weeks. 

Beyond that, he’s planning the next few years of his life, which will almost certainly place him in either Germany or Austria, where Hutman hopes he shares what he learned in Los Angeles.

“How could he not be changed?” she said. “How could he not now bring that consciousness and those relationships to bear in all his relationships he’ll have in his life going forward as an Austrian citizen?”

Eilat shooting raises questions about recruitment for Israel programs

The recent shooting of an Israeli hotel employee by an American Jewish intern is raising questions about how Israel internship programs for Diaspora Jews recruit and screen applicants.

The assailant, William Herskowitz, was killed by police following a brief standoff last Friday shortly after the fatal shooting, in which he reportedly used the firearm of a hotel security guard to kill 33-year-old Armando Abed in the dining room of the Leonardo Club Hotel in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat.

Herskowitz had been enrolled in Oranim’s Eilat Hotel Experience, an internship program for American Jews interested in the hospitality industry. He had worked in several positions at the hotel and took a course in hotel management. Oranim is a tour provider that offers long- and short-term Israel programs to young adults.

According to Oranim, Herskowitz had lost his job a day earlier for lack of discipline.

To get into the program, according to current and past Oranim employees, Herskowitz had to fill out an online form, pass a two-part phone interview with Oranim recruiters and send in a medical history form.

Past recruiters at Oranim and other long-term internship programs in Israel noted the difficulty of gauging the personalities of potential participants from across the ocean.

“On one hand you can have a phone conversation with someone and they sound fine, handle themselves well,” said a former Oranim recruiter who asked to remain anonymous. “You can have a doctor sign off on this form and not report certain medical disorders, and how would you know? People can seem completely normal on the phone or Skype, and then things surface once they get to Israel.”

Oranim's spokesman, Yuval Arad, said that Herskowitz had a clean medical record and no criminal history. While Oranim's online application included a resume, Oranim did not ask Herskowitz for references or a personal essay on why he chose the program — safeguards required by similar programs.

A recruiter for the WUJS Intern Tel Aviv program, which like Oranim combines work with Hebrew study and travel, said her program requires a personal essay and a video interview — and references, if deemed necessary — in order to ensure that recruiters know which applicants to watch closely, even after they arrive on the program.

“It is possible for people to fall through the cracks, but if you work for a program you know who your red flags are from the first conversation and monitor their behavior closely on the program,” said Amy Gross, the WUJS recruiter. However, she added, sometimes “all the monitoring in the world can’t prevent someone from doing something crazy.”

Career Israel, another long-term internship program in Israel, requires applicants to submit a recommendation.

Herskowitz also received funding for the program from Masa Israel Journey, an umbrella organization for 200 long-term Israel programs. In order to receive the stipends, which run into the thousands of dollars per person, participants must be Jewish and aged 18 to 30.

Following the shooting, the Jewish Agency for Israel, which governs Masa, said that it would be convening a panel “to examine the processes by which the American participant was accepted to the Oranim program in Eilat,” according to an email. A subsequent statement to JTA called the incident “a truly anomalous event.”

The former Oranim recruiter, as well as the group’s spokesperson, said the phone interview was enough to determine whether an applicant was fit for Oranim’s programs.

“You can tell by having a conversation with somebody if they sounded competent, if they sounded strange or if they had a strange reason for coming to Israel,” the former recruiter said, adding that recruiters sometimes called applicants’ grandparents to get more insight into them.

Arad, Oranim’s spokesman, said the organization has to rely on the applicants themselves to provide reliable information.

“You don’t ask a person, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Arad said. “They need to give medical assurances. What can you learn from the resume of an 18-year-old?”

Israel internships

For colleges graduates, landing the dream job has become even more difficult in these recent economically challenging years. Also, going straight from college into a job may not seem the most attractive prospect. Many grads want to travel, but the need for money sends most straight into their careers. 

What if you could do both? Spreading your wings and working abroad at the same time is a feasible option. For college graduates looking for short-term, professional experiences away from home, Israel has always been a fruitful source of opportunities.

With a wide range of internship programs available to build up your résumé while living in a completely new and exotic culture, there isn’t much you can’t do in the Jewish state. 


The Hamilton Fellowship

The Hamilton Fellowship was specifically created for high-achieving Jewish college students and college graduates who want to expand their business skills, build a marketable résumé and learn the intricacies of day-to-day operations in emerging international markets.

The fellowship offers a placement in Buenos Aires, Argentina, commonly referred to as the Paris of Latin America.

Buenos Aires has the third-largest Jewish population in the world behind Jerusalem and New York City. Although the community is large, it is extremely close-knit, and you will meet like-minded Jews from all over the world and have the opportunity to attend meetings at the Buenos Aires office of the world’s largest Jewish student organization.

For more information, visit


Israel Way-Oranim

Founded in 1986 as a travel company geared toward the young Jewish traveler, Israel Way-Oranim offers graduates a multitude of opportunities.

Oranim’s Tel Aviv Internship Experience allows you to spend five months in Tel Aviv, where graduates are exposed to new career opportunities. Internships are available in almost all career paths, including business, technology, finance, arts, sports, communications, politics and education. Receive hands-on guidance and practical training while working on several important projects. Essentially, you will bypass the American tradition of working your way up from the mailroom and instead experience the Israeli way, where on day one you’re treated as though you’ve already been working there for years.

Oranim also offers short-term and summer internships in Israel for students and professionals of all ages. An internship placement coordinator will work with you to build the ideal experience. Internships are available for two months and longer, and in every field. All graduates of the short-term Internship Experience will, upon completion of internships, receive a certificate of accomplishment from Oranim and their supervisor.

The Israel Way-Oranim project also includes other programs such as See Galilee, a program aimed at young Jewish leaders who are concerned about social issues in Israel, and the TOV program, which combines an internship with volunteering experience.

For more information, visit


Masa Israel Journey

Masa Israel Journey offers university graduates and young professionals more than 200 internship, academic and career development opportunities all over Israel, lasting from five to 12 months. 

Real Life Israel offers a five-month immersion and interning program in Jerusalem. The program includes Hebrew-language learning, countrywide tours and local activities in addition to your choice of top-level internships. The program is designed to give you an authentic experience of life in Israel.

Career Israel is a five-month professional internship program open to college graduates from all over the world, offering you an online database of more than 500 internship opportunities.

Choose from a variety of internship opportunities and gain the knowledge, skills and experience you need to be competitive in today’s global economy.

For more information, visit



OTZMA is a 10-month program divided into three parts. In the first part, you join an absorption center with other immigrants, where you learn Hebrew, volunteer, get to know fellow participants and take part in educational seminars. In the second part, you  participate in community service. 

In the final part, you intern for top Israeli service organizations in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, living in the centre of Tel Aviv or at campus apartments in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. During this stage of the program, each participant will work in a top-level NGO that is dedicated to making real change.

In addition to the 10-month program, OTZMA has launched a new five-month program for 20- to 30-year-old Jewish adults. 

With the OTZMA Leadership Scholarship, the program can be experienced starting at $1,000. OTZMA’s next program begins Jan. 22, 2013. 

For more information, visit


WUJS Israel — Intern Tel Aviv or Jerusalem

WUJS Israel is a five-month post-college program that offers the ultimate Israel experience for Jewish young adults from around the world. The program is based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. WUJS Israel allows graduates the opportunity to intern with one of Israel’s leading companies or NGOs, with the additional benefits of a regular Hebrew-language course, weekly field trips, overnight hikes, meetings with Israeli peers and a variety of fun and enriching activities. Participants on WUJS Intern Tel Aviv are required to intern 25 to 30 hours a week.

There are internships available in startups, finance, high-tech, arts and culture, science and medicine as well as museums.

For more information, visit

Class Notes – Building Houses, Building Bridges

With the growing frequency of “alternative spring break programs” making them less, well, alternative, USC Hillel added a twist that helped it reclaim moniker. The campus Jewish group teamed up with the USC chapter of the NAACP to build houses in Baton Rouge over spring break in March, using the heavily subsidized service project as an opportunity to build bridges between the two communities.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “it became obvious to me that we needed to talk about the racial component. That is why we reached out to the NAACP on campus,” says USC Hillel’s Rabbi Jonathan Klein, who admits the program was a throwback to his own college days in the 1980s, when there were efforts to rebuild a broken black-Jewish alliance.

Sixteen Jewish students, 14 African American students and one Asian student spent the week with chainsaws, hammers and raw strength erecting four houses for Habitat for Humanity in Baton Rouge, which took in a huge influx of refugees after hurricanes Katrina and Rita last August.

The students also toured New Orleans, where they met with the national president of the NAACP, and spent Purim with Chabad at Tulane University. Friday night services were at Temple Beth Shalom in Baton Rouge, while Sunday morning found the students at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

The students spent time reading and talking about the history of the black-Jewish alliance, from the civil rights cooperation to the challenges of the 1980s and 90s. They talked about stereotypes each community withstands, and studied the biblical origins of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Klein says the students’ conversations went to the very core of what it means to have an ethnic identity.

“I think the black-Jewish conversation is important not just in terms of building an alliance, but it helps Jews understand themselves better,” Klein said.

Camp Bargains Still Available

West Coast camps are reaching out to make a summer Jewish experience accessible to more kids.

B’nai Brith Camp, located on a lakeside campus on the Oregon coast, is offering a 50 percent scholarship to all first time campers entering second, third or fourth grades enrolling in the Maccabee session, June 26-July 3.

The Dor L’dor scholarship is sponsored by the B’nai B’rith Men’s Camp Association, which since 1930 has been supporting the B’nai Brith Camp, run by the Mittelman Jewish Community Center in Portland.

Down at the southern end of the coast, the two-year-old Camp Mountain Chai in Angeles National Forest will match any scholarships campers get from other sources, such as Jewish Federations or foundations. The camp also offers some need- and merit-based scholarships.

For more information regarding B’nai B’rith Camp or the Dor L’dor Fund, call (503) 452-3444 or visit For information about Camp Mountain Chai, call (858) 535-1995 or visit

A Yiddische Summer

Undergraduates living or attending college in Los Angeles are invited to apply for a paid, 10-week internship with Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization that promotes Yiddish language and culture.

For information on the internship, funded by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, visit, or contact or by fax to (213) 365-0702.

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