How to choose an Israel summer program

Josh Ungar will never forget the first time he laid eyes on the Western Wall.

“It was right before Shabbos and [the tour leaders] led us to the Wall and had us close our eyes and then open them when we were right in front of the Kotel,” remembered Ungar, 16, of his experience with Ramah Israel Summer, which is affiliated with Camp Ramah. “It was an amazing feeling, after hearing and reading about this place for all this time and finally being there.”

After spending last summer touring Israel with his peers, the Playa del Rey resident feels a stronger connection to the country and his Jewish roots.

Ungar is not alone. The Jewish Agency of Israel reports that in 2006, 7,870 high school students participated in Israel programs. But while the decision to go may be an easy one, the process of selecting a program is not always so simple. Countless organizations offer a variety of different types of programs, making overwhelming the task of finding the right fit. So, how can a prospective traveler narrow down the options?

“First [interested teens] should think about their goals in going to Israel,” said Sara Polon of Tlalim Tours, a Washington, D.C.-based company that creates tours for the Passport to Israel summer program of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). “Are they looking for a religious experience, a more outdoorsy adventure, an educational experience or maybe a community service experience?”

Teens can also start with programs aligned with the branch of Judaism with which they affiliate. Another consideration is the amount of time the youngster is willing to spend on his journey, as the programs range from a quick 10-day excursion to six weeks or more.

Jewish youth movements like USY (United Synagogue Youth), BBYO, Young Judea, Habonim Dror, NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) offer a variety of programs that are often open to both members and nonmembers. In fact, 50 percent of BBYO’s Passport to Israel participants are not affiliated with the organization.

In general, these trips offer a combination of sightseeing, outdoor adventures, community service and Jewish education. But some of the youth movements also offer programs that emphasize just one of these aspects. USY offers Etgar! Outdoor Adventure Israel for teens who would like to spend the summer hiking and exploring the outdoors. Similarly, NCSY’s G.I.V.E. program focuses on community service.
In addition, some of the youth movement trips include Eastern Europe. Participants often visit concentration camps before making a pilgrimage to Israel.

The highlight of 16-year-old Daniella Kaufman’s NFTY trip last summer was a re-enactment of the liberation from Terezin, a Prague concentration camp, and then a cruise to Israel, mimicking the boat ride refugees took.

“We had a chance to arrive in Israel just as so many Jews did so long ago, and experience the feelings they felt when the port of Haifa, their gateway to freedom, came into view,” remembered the Valley Village resident.

For students in search of an academic experience, there are plenty of options. The Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, a five-week program for high school juniors, selects 26 applicants from diverse Jewish backgrounds to study Jewish texts and explore Israel.

InnovationIsrael is a four-week program in which students take courses at Tel Aviv University and visit environmental, high-tech, bio-tech, medical, art and film studio facilities. For those looking for religious academia, NCSY offers Kollel (for boys) and Michlelet (for girls). Both programs focus on Torah study. NCSY also offers “Shakespeare in Jerusalem,” an Israel experience coupled with an “on-the-road” English literature course.

Students who want to spend their summer doing community service can explore Sar-El (the National Project for Volunteers for Israel), an Israeli non-profit that offers adults and teens 17 and older the opportunity to work in Israeli army bases and hospitals. Camp Tawonga, a Jewish summer camp based in San Francisco, is offering a Teen Service Learning trip to Israel where participants will work four days a week with locals on important community projects.

While programs vary in cost, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE) program offers financial aid for many teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 26 who have not yet visited Israel.

“We want to help every young person go to Israel for the first time,” said Deborah Dragon, The Federation’s vice president of public relations. ICE offers grants and scholarships with the help of more than 80 local Jewish agencies. The group funds 250 to 300 trips per year. The Jewish Free Loan Association, also a Federation agency, offers interest-free loans for Israel trips.

No matter which options young travelers choose it is clear that a summer in Israel makes a profound impact in the life of a Jewish teenager.

After her USY trip last summer, Daniela Bernstein, 16, of Los Angeles is already thinking about returning. “The trip cultivated my love of Israel and the complete realization of how crucial Israel is to Judaism and the Jewish people,” said Bernstein. “I am already planning my next visit.”

For information on financial aid and referrals for a variety of Israel programs, call The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE) office at (323) 761-8342.

For information on Ramah Israel Seminar, visit

For information on BBYO’s Israel programs, visit

For information on USY’s programs, visit

For information on Young Judea, visit

For information on Habonim Dror, visit

For information on NFTY in Israel, visit

For information on NCSY’s summer programs, visit

For information on the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, visit

For information on InnovationIsrael, visit

For information on Sar-El, visit

For information on Camp Tawonga’s programs, visit

For information on the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE), visit

Synagogues Weigh Defibrillator Benefits

After spending the week visiting his family in Phoenix, 73-year-old Benjamin Boxerbaum stood at the airport ticket counter awaiting his flight home, when he suddenly collapsed. The paramedics were called, but Boxerbaum died soon after their arrival.

“Even though there’s a fire department at the airport, it took the paramedics more than 10 minutes to reach him,” said his daughter, Brenda Priddy.

She believes her father’s death resulted from sudden cardiac arrest, a condition that claims about 250,000 lives annually.

Priddy began to research the condition and learned that it is frequently caused by ventricular fibrillation, a disturbance in the heart’s rhythm. She also discovered that other airports kept portable defibrillators — devices that can shock a heart back into normal rhythm — on hand for just such occasions. Priddy began a public awareness campaign to place them in Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport and other public locations. Her son, Zach, even took up the cause and raised $2,500 to purchase a unit for the family’s synagogue as his bar mitzvah project.

In the five years since Priddy’s father passed away, portable defibrillators (also called automated external defibrillators) have become increasingly common in public venues. A federal Good Samaritan law protects those who purchase or use the defibrillators from liability, and recommends that the devices be placed in federal buildings. Given that synagogues, Jewish schools and cultural centers can draw hundreds or even thousands of visitors, some institutions are eagerly embracing this technology.

The Union for Reform Judaism discusses defibrillators on its Web site, and provides a series of steps for congregations to consider when setting up a program. The Orthodox Union recommends that all synagogues equip themselves with a portable defibrillator.

Rabbi Aaron Tendler of Shaarey Tzedek said several congregants have specifically asked him whether the synagogue has an automated external defibrillator, which it does. Tendler notes that his congregation includes elderly members with heart conditions, and says it gives him “a sense of confidence in knowing that [the device] is there.”

Some synagogues have been deterred by the $2,000 to $3,000 investment required to purchase such a device. To address this issue, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s (USCJ) business services department has partnered with a manufacturer to provide the devices and training at a discounted rate.

“We’re just beginning to market to congregations,” said Aliza Goland of the Conservative movement’s Pacific Southwest region.

Sinai Temple has two defibrillators, which were purchased before the USCJ program went into effect.

“With 1,000 people present every Saturday and children and staff here almost daily, we felt it was imperative to have one,” executive director Howard Lesner said.

When it comes to restoring heart rhythm after cardiac arrest, “time is of the essence,” said Dr. P.K. Shah, director of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “Each minute that goes by without the restoration of normal circulation equals a 10 percent chance of irreversible brain damage.”

Revival within four minutes gives the best chance of survival, and few resuscitation attempts succeed after 10 minutes have elapsed. Since it takes seven to eight minutes on average for emergency medical personnel to arrive, the devices enable trained bystanders to deliver defibrillation during the critical period before the paramedics arrive.

Portable defibrillators are designed for ease of use and prompt the user through each step. The user places pads on the victim’s chest. If the machine determines that a shock is needed, it prompts the user to press a button, which delivers the shock. The device will not deliver a shock if it is not needed.

A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine found that survival rates were twice as high in locations where participants were trained both in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillator use rather than CPR alone. The researchers concluded that widespread implementation of public defibrillator programs could save between 2,000 and 4,000 lives each year.

However, to be included in the study, participating facilities needed to have the equivalent of at least 250 adults over the age of 50 present during waking hours (16 hours per day). Few Jewish institutions would reach such a threshold.

Out of 20 local Jewish institutions with sizable constituencies polled by The Jewish Journal, nine had a portable defibrillator on site: B’nai David-Judea, Leo Baeck Temple, the New Jewish Community Center at Milken, Shaarey Zedek, Sinai Temple, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Temple Beth Am, Valley Beth Shalom and Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Others said they were considering a portable defibrillator or planned to purchase one in the near future. Only one synagogue has had occasion to deploy its defibrillator. The patient survived, and the synagogue’s spokesperson was not certain whether or not shock needed to be administered.

Approximately 80 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur not in public locations but in the home. Nevertheless, Cedars-Sinai’s Shah believes that the remaining 20 percent constitute a sufficient number to justify placing the devices in synagogues and other gathering places.

And Priddy, whose father suffered cardiac arrest at the Phoenix airport, believes they are a worthy investment. The devices, she said, can “give someone back their life and give families back their loved one.”


UCLA Forming Israel Studies Program

Everybody talks about Israel, but, surprisingly, there is no teaching, research and community program at an American university that focuses solely on the Jewish state in all its multiple facets.

The gap is beginning to be filled at UCLA, and if all works as planned, the Israel Studies Program will be “the most comprehensive and systematic” in the United States, according to its organizers.

Already in place are two undergraduate courses, visits by prominent Israeli and American scholars, and a community lecture program. In the works is a major international conference on Israeli democracy.

By 2007, Israel studies expects to be fully on the intellectual, community and media map, with an interdisciplinary faculty, prestigious academic chair and library, and poised to offer an undergraduate degree.

While there are well-established Jewish and Middle/Near East study centers at UCLA and a number of East Coast universities, “Israel itself doesn’t get focused attention and tends to get lost as an appendage to other programs,” said UCLA political scientist Steven Spiegel, one of the movers of Israel studies.

Aside from academic considerations, there is a strong feeling among many professors — and certainly within the Jewish community — that Near East departments on many campuses (though not UCLA) are dominated by pro-Arabists.

Yuval Rotem, who recently left his post as Israeli consul general after five years in the Western United States, reflects the opinion of more reticent scholars.

“Professorial posts in too many Middle East centers on too many American campuses are funded and occupied by pro-Arabists, and when they invite Israeli speakers, these are often more hateful of Israel than are the Arabs,” said Rotem in a phone call from Jerusalem.

“This situation, plus pro-Palestinian student movements on many campuses, can’t be changed by the occasional seminar on Israel’s plight or discussions among Jewish organizations,” he said. “It’s a long-range problem. Knowledge is a cumulative process and only a permanent study program on Israel can provide it.”

The initiative, drive and seed money for the Israel Studies program has come from a determined woman — Sharon Baradaran, a member of the influential Iranian American Nazarian clan of Los Angeles, who has a doctorate and is a university teacher in political science.

“It started more than two years ago, after the Israeli-Palestinian clashes in Jenin, when the media reported a lot of false and slanderous information about the behavior of the Israeli army,” Baradaran said in a phone interview.

Upset by the reported distortions, she invited a group of friends, including Rotem, American academicians and Israeli officers who had participated in the Jenin action for an informal discussion at her home.

Every two or three months, she reconvened and expanded the salon, including visiting Israeli politicians and scholars, and the discussions became more urgent as anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incidents were reported on numerous American campuses.

“I had the idea that while there were study centers on China, Russia, Latin America, Africa and many other areas at the UCLA International Institute, there was none for Israel, whose history, culture and political impact certainly warranted its own study program,” Baradaran said.

“First, we wanted an interdisciplinary program that would draw faculty and students in history, economics, sociology, law, political science, literature and cultural studies,” she added. “Secondly, we wanted a place open enough to also attract Arab and other scholars.”

She and some of her influential salon friends presented the concept to UCLA Vice Provost Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the International Institute, and to UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale. Both men reacted enthusiastically but noted that in these difficult times, no university funds were available for the program.

Baradaran was not fazed. She and Steve Gamer, external affairs director for the UCLA Institute, mapped out a fundraising drive for a $5 million endowment, to underwrite a permanent academic chair, visiting scholars program, campus and community education, policy forums and conferences and to develop a curriculum on Israel for school teachers at all levels.

The Israel Studies program, and future center, will be named in honor of the hoped-for $5 million donor.

So far, $800,000 has been raised and seed money to invite distinguished scholars has been provided by the family foundation of Younes and Soraya Nazarian, Baradaran’s parents. This month, professor Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem inaugurated the visiting scholar program.

While the fundraising is progressing, two undergraduate courses in the Israel program are already in their second year. One is “History of Israel: 1948 to Present,” popularly dubbed Israel 101.

The second is an innovative course on Israel-Diaspora Relations, in which students at UCLA and Tel Aviv University hold “joint” videoconferencing classes to explore each other’s culture, politics and attitudes. Dr. Fredelle Spiegel initiated and teaches the class, which was initially funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Directors of the Jewish Studies centers at USC and UCLA see the developing Israel program not as a competitor, but as an ally.

“I’ve always emphasized that the more high quality research and teaching on Israel and Jewish life we can get, the better it is for everybody,” said Dr. Barry Glassner, director of the USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life.

Dr. David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, who participated in the planning of the Israel program, said, “Israel is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, and a better comprehension is vital to the intellectual and general communities. What better place to have the Israel program than in Los Angeles?”

Myers’ center at UCLA has organized an extensive campus and public program for the 2004-2005 academic year, including lectures, seminars and workshops on local Jewish history, Jewish-Muslim relations, Yiddish and Sephardic culture and the Holocaust. For information, call (310) 825-5387 or visit

For information on programs or financial support for the Israel Studies program, contact Steve Gamer at (310) 206-8578 or

Cal State Bridges Culture Gap

The Los Angeles campus of California State University hardly seems fertile ground to introduce studies on Jewish culture and history.

Located five miles east of the downtown Civic Center, Cal State L.A. has some 21,000 students, of whom more than half are Latino, almost a quarter Asian American and 8.4 percent African American.

Among the 15.7 percent non-Hispanic whites, Jews make up such an insignificant portion that no statistics, or even good guesstimates, are available.

It is precisely because of this lopsided ethnic minority makeup that Carl M. Selkin is working hard to add a Jewish component to the curriculum.

"Our students, who are tomorrow’s public school teachers, have no connection with Jews in their lives and studies," said Selkin, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. "Many are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and they need to know about the Jewish contributions to American society and the building of Los Angeles."

The campus site is near Boyle Heights, once home to a vibrant Jewish community before and during World War II. But by the time the campus was opened in 1956, almost all Jews had departed for the Fairfax area and the Westside.

That means that few students have had any regular contacts with Jews, leaving only a residue of anti-Semitic stereotypes and myths.

The Jewish studies program will start out fairly modestly next year (2004) by expanding present courses to reflect Jewish contributions in a given field. Selkin expects that the first such courses will be in the history of the film industry and in American literature.

As the program — and financial resources — grow, he hopes to add Jewish-oriented lectures by visiting experts, research projects, scholarships and special events.

These studies and activities will be part of the university’s American Communities Program, which has received challenge grants form the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation.

However, to put the Jewish program on a sound financial footing, Selkin is seeking an endowment of $200,000 from Jewish community organizations and individuals.

The obvious question remains whether Latino, Asian and black students will have the interest, and time, to study about American Jewish culture, history and the immigrant experience.

Spare time is a factor since most students commute to campus, hold part-time jobs, and frequently are older men and women preparing for second careers.

Nevertheless, there are "lots of possibilities for the program to make an impact, if carefully planned," said professor Peter Brier, who taught English on campus for three decades.

"Many students are curious about Jews, beyond the myths and stereotypes," he said. "There is a growing interest in religious studies, including Judaism and Islam."

Brier also thinks that the current students, drawn largely from East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, may show a historical interest in the Jewish immigrants who preceded them in their communities.

Rabbi Michael Perelmuter, who worked with the now defunct Hillel Extension program on campus, believes that many Christian students, especially among Asian Americans, will wish to explore the Jewish roots of their faith.

"It will take an effort, but it is important to keep Jewish culture and history on the radar screen," he said.

One plus factor is the relatively large number of Jewish faculty members on campus. Seymour Levitan, who served as chairman of the psychology department, recalled that, in the 1960s, roughly one-quarter of his 100 full- and part-time academic staff was Jewish.

Although the number has declined as the older Jewish professors retire and are largely replaced by non-Jewish faculty, there still remains a sufficient core who could serve as instructors and supporters of a Jewish program, if they are willing.

Cal State L.A. has never approached the Jewish activism and presence found at the top American academic institutions, private and public, with their large and largely affluent Jewish enrollment and attractive Hillel centers.

On the other hand, the L.A. campus has been largely immune to pro-Palestinian demonstrations and confrontations.

"These issues don’t really interest our student body," Brier said.

However, there was a time, from the mid-1970s to the mid-’80s, when Cal State students regularly met for Shabbat dinners and Passover seders at off-campus homes, Perelmuter recalled, and there was even a short-lived Aish HaTorah campus chapter in the 1960s.

Between 1975 and 1991, Perelmuter served as the "itinerant" Hillel Extension rabbi for Occidental College, Caltech and Cal State L.A., until the extension program was axed for lack of funds.

"We weren’t all that large, but we had up to 50 Cal State students signed up with Hillel, we had speakers and cultural programs and some excellent interfaith dialogues," said Perelmuter, who is now director of interreligious affairs for the regional American Jewish Committee.

For more information on the Jewish studies program at Cal State L.A., contact Dean Carl M. Selkin at (323) 343-4001. Tax deductible contributions can be sent to Selkin, College of Arts and Letters, Cal State L.A,. 5151 University Drive, Los Angeles, CA, 90032-8100. Checks should be made payable to "The CSLA Foundation/Jewish American Endowment."

Mothers, Daughters Bond Over Torah

Netivot, the women’s Torah study institute, will begin a program next month on a subject not often associated with Orthodoxy: bat mitzvah.

Beginning Nov. 16, Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills will host a “Mother/Daughter Bat Mitzvah Seminar,” in which girls ages 11-13 and their mothers are invited to explore aspects of being a Jewish woman through text study, creative expression and areas of social action.

Educator Marcie Meier will lead the six-week course, joined by specialists who will facilitate projects in music, drama, art and dance. In addition to female characters in the Bible, seminar participants will discuss historical and personal role models.

Although Meier recognizes that “there’s always been a more public role for young men … there’s no reason girls shouldn’t achieve as much as boys in Judaism.”

Attaining the age of bat mitzvah, Meier told The Journal, involves “growing into a more responsible role in Judaism” — not just fulfillment of commandments incumbent on women such as lighting Shabbat candles but also saying daily prayers and carrying out acts of chesed (lovingkindness), what Jews often refer to as tikkun olam (social action).

Text study, Meier said, allows girls to understand their responsibilities as adult Jews “on a deeper level.” Orthodox from birth, Meier embraced the importance of study for girls as a young adult after reading an essay in an Orthodox journal in which a woman wrote, “Women sometimes confuse motherhood with washing floors…. Anyone who can study should study.”

At Beth Jacob, girls celebrate their coming of age as Jewish adults by offering to the congregation a d’var Torah, or commentary, on the weekly Torah portion, though, consistent with traditional practice, they do not lead prayers or read from Scripture.

But Steven Weil, Beth Jacob’s rabbi, downplays the “public performance” component of bar mitzvah as a latter-day American phenomenon. For centuries, he said, bar mitzvah was nothing more than a boy being called to recite Torah blessings on a Thursday morning.

To Weil, the close study of text and Jewish values that leads to the d’var Torah is the core of the rite of passage for girls and boys.

“Our goal is that the focus is on a real, substantive intellectual growth experience,” he told The Journal, “learning for six to 12 months with a first-rate mentor.”

Weil cites Meier as such a mentor, someone knowledgeable in Bible, rabbinic texts and traditional practice. A product of Los Angeles Jewish day schools, Meier, 51, attended Stern College for Women in New York and UCLA. She has prepared girls to deliver divrei Torah at Orthodox congregations and at non-Orthodox synagogues such as Temple Beth Am.

Michelle Rothstein, a seventh-grader at Pressman Academy in Pico-Robertson, has been working with Meier since last year to prepare divrei Torah for her bat mitzvah celebrations this month at Beth Jacob and at Beth Am, where she will also lead a weekday service.

With Meier, Rothstein explored Torah in both Hebrew and English.

“She knows a lot, and she’s really nice,” Rothstein said of her teacher.

Meier is looking forward to working with mothers and daughters together.

“For some mothers, it will be a first opportunity to study things they didn’t have an opportunity to study as they grew up,” she said.

She also sees it as a chance for women to spend “quality time” with their middle-school daughters.

Netivot (Hebrew for “paths”), founded in 2000, opens its fall schedule on Nov. 2 with “Weaving Beauty Into Our Everyday Lives,” an afternoon-long program combining Torah study with interactive arts workshops. All of Netivot’s programs are open to women at all levels of knowledge and from all Jewish denominations.

The seminar is “really going to be able to reach all levels,” Meier said. “It’s such a positive thing to bring our girls into the next step of Judaism.”

To find out more about the “Mother/Daughter Bat Mitzvah
Seminar” or Netivot’s other fall offerings, call (310) 286-2346, visit or e-mail .