December 11, 2018

Remembering Ari Fuld: The Lion of Zion

Ari Fuld, photo courtesy of Facebook.

This article was never meant to be written. The intended subject of this week’s “Humans of Israel” column was hi-tech guru Hillel Fuld. But when his older brother, Ari, was reportedly stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist in Gush Etzion on Sunday, everything changed. It was impossible to stem the flow of tears rereading the piece on Hillel, who said during our interview last week that he felt he was “living a dream” in which he had to “pinch myself every day.”

Hillel’s life, and that of his family, has since turned into a nightmare.

The tears flow afresh every time I open Facebook, which is almost exclusively filled with posts about the elder Fuld. I did not know him personally, but the effect he had was wide-reaching. As someone put it to me, “Everyone knew Ari, even those who didn’t know him.”

In keeping with his namesake, he was eulogized as a “lion of Zion,” a “hero” and a “warrior of the Jewish state.”

At his funeral, his brother Moshe said, “Who else could manage upon sustaining a fatal injury, to draw his pistol, jump a fence and shoot his attacker to make sure that his attacker would not hurt anyone else? Only my brother, only my brother.”

One mourner described the scene at Kfar Etzion cemetery, where many thousands turned up despite the late hour. At close to midnight, the mourners were informed that it would be at least another 40 minutes before Fuld’s body would arrive and were told to go and get some air. Yet no one moved. Instead they started singing songs about Jewish unity.

“Who else could manage upon sustaining a fatal injury, to draw his pistol, jump a fence and shoot his attacker to make sure that his attacker would not hurt anyone else? Only my brother, only my brother.”

“Ari was giving us hope that even though he was taken away from us we should keep going on, fighting and battling,” Kenny Braun told the Journal. “Ari gave us all a present Erev Yom Kippur. Something that klal Yisrael could take inspiration from and use it as a tool right now at this critical time.”

Another mourner, Gedalyah Reback, a former resident of Gush Etzion, told the Journal, “I feel like I’ve gotten numb to news of these attacks. But hearing Ari’s name it sort of broke me out of my complacency. And seeing his family –  his wife, his father – give eulogies, really made it sink in.”

Fuld, who left behind a wife and four young children, was a staunch activist who doggedly defended the Jewish state.

“We lost a general today,” Joshua Hasten, a friend of Fuld’s and the international spokesman for the Gush Etzion municipality told the Journal. “Somebody who was at the forefront of pro-Israel advocacy.”

A former paratrooper, Fuld was also the assistance director of Standing Together, an organization that assists lone soldiers. Fuld was not a person who waited for people to come to him to ask for help. He reached out. When Eric Schorr was drafted into the army, Fuld contacted his mother to ask for Schorr’s address in Israel. “He had never met me, but he wanted to send me hamantaschen for Purim and to make sure that my first holiday in uniform was a happy one,” Schorr told the Journal. “It was the kind of person he was, going that extra mile.”

Ruth Waiman said she connected with Fuld over a shared love of martial arts. Fuld was a fourth-level black belt in Karate who taught self-defense to children. “He gave everyone the feeling [that] what they’re doing is important, all the while doing such vital work himself,” Waiman said. “With such strong passion about everything he set his mind to, it was hard not to absorb a bit of that from him.”

“He understood the concept of a win-win and was willing to keep seeking it, even though he was 99% sure there was no immediate chance of finding it. Ari Fuld lived – and died – by embodying the ideal that this entails.”

Elie Shechter who has known Fuld his entire life, said, “He could give you the biggest hug just by looking at you.”

Several people commented that Fuld’s personality and compassion shone through even when he was embroiled in heated debate. Writer Laura Ben-David said she and Fuld “disagreed, often and publicly” but that his assertions came from a place of “deep caring for Israel and the Jewish people.” Their last argument took place eight minutes before he was stabbed. “I left his last counter-argument hanging; and there it shall remain. Forever,” Ben-David posted.

Another person who had left Fuld hanging was journalist Orit Arfa, who wrote that she had failed to answer Fuld when he questioned some provocative statements made in an earlier op-ed about her decision to move to Berlin. “Don’t rest in peace, Ari. Keep fighting up there,” Arfa wrote. “Meanwhile, please forgive me, but I’ll still stay in Berlin, a cowardly shadow in your heroic light.”

Michael Freedman also commented that he and Fuld “didn’t agree on everything.”

“But this was a man who listened intently to views that opposed his own, or if they overlapped a bit, was keen to seize on the common ground,” he wrote. “He understood the concept of a win-win and was willing to keep seeking it, even though he was 99% sure there was no immediate chance of finding it. Ari Fuld lived – and died – by embodying the ideal that this entails.”

Eve Harow: Guiding Hearts and Minds Through the Holy Land

Eve Harow.

Eve Harow’s “insatiable curiosity,” mixed with her love of people and Israel, seems to be the perfect recipe for her chosen career as a tour guide, radio show host and speaker.

A former 10-year councilwoman in the settlement of Efrat just outside Jerusalem, Harow is the director of tourism for the One Israel Fund, on the board of governors of Ariel University, a member of the Judea and Samaria Speakers Bureau and the JNF Speakers Bureau, and on the board of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s Israel affiliate, Presspectiva.

After graduating with a master’s degree in psychology from Pepperdine University in 1988, she and her husband made aliyah and settled in Efrat, where they raised their seven children.

On a recent visit to Los Angeles, Harow told the Journal it was in Israel that she first became involved in Israel advocacy. “I was the very quiet person in the back of the classroom. [But] I found my voice in Israel. I feel that God gave me a voice.”

About 10 years ago, Harow found a way to amplify that voice by obtaining her  tour guide’s license. “In Israel, we’re not called tour guides” she explained. “It’s called moreh haderech, which literally means an ‘educator on the way.’ That’s what we’re doing. Our classroom is the country.”

“Context for me is the most important text, aside from the Bible.” — Eve Harow

She said being a tour guide is multifaceted and challenging. “Every place I go, there are 50 things I can tell them.” She said although tour guides know ridiculous amounts of information, there are maybe three things that will speak to the people on her tour, based on who they are. She has a very short amount of time to figure out what will resonate with them.

“Context for me is the most important text, aside from the Bible,” Harow said. “Context is everything and most of us don’t have it. … We learn Jewish stuff, world history and secular stuff, and we don’t usually see how they connect.”

Her job, she said, is to connect those dots. She explained that most tourists are Christians and see Israel in a certain way, but once they take a tour with her, they see things from the perspective of a woman who lives a traditional Jewish life.

“I can connect them to the Bible and to the Jews of today and the land,” Harow said. “They are already [connected to] the God thing, which is fabulous.”

Through her tours, Harow said she wants people to care about Israel, see its value and get them thinking. She also wants them to feel the culture and taste the country’s amazing food.

“There are 120 different countries that we came from and everybody brought their recipes and their spices,” she said. “So you have Moroccan cooks making gefilte fish. I feel like I’m a facilitator — bringing people to see the Israel that I see: the farmers, the blacksmiths, the people who together make up a beautiful mosaic.”

Harow also introduces these people and their stories through her weekly podcast, “Rejuvenation,” on The Land of Israel Network, which has several thousand listeners. Like her tours, her show is designed to encourage a better understanding of life in Israel.

The many hats she wears are all part of her mission to figure out how to bridge the gap between the past and the future, she said. “How do I lead the world to a better place for mankind, but specifically for the Jews coming after me? I think those two are very connected.”

Profiling the Profiler

Erez Kaganovitz.

Erez Kaganovitz has the sort of face that immediately puts you at ease. His smile is arresting. It reaches his dusty green eyes, crinkling them at the corners. He’s the type of person who wouldn’t seem threatening if he stopped you in a dark alley.

Which is probably a good thing, because Kaganovitz would stop you in a dark alley if he found you interesting enough.

Kaganovitz profiles people as a hobby. He snaps their portraits and talks with them, trying to capture who they are in a single paragraph for his project, Humans of Tel Aviv.

So the man behind Humans of Tel Aviv emerged from behind his lens for an interview with Humans of Israel.

For Kaganovitz, the project means telling the story of a city through its people. He said that when he first moved to Tel Aviv, he was struck by the range of curious characters who peopled its streets.

“Everyone looked like actors on a break from a set,” he said.

The project, he said, transformed him. It made him realize the extent to which people create stories about other people without bothering to find out the truth. Humans of Tel Aviv began as an attempt to change that paradigm about people, and about Israelis in particular.

Because of his impeccable, barely accented English — the result of “endless episodes of ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends,’ ” he said — people he met during his many travels never assumed Kaganovitz was an Israeli. When he told them where he was from, their expressions changed, often for the worse.

“Every person has a story. You just have to know how to unlock it.” — Erez Kaganovitz

“I thought, if only I had the option to bring these people to Israel, to show them its multiculturalism, its diverse, vibrant society, maybe I could change their minds,” he said.

Instead, he brought Israel to people from around the world. His Humans of Tel Aviv Facebook page has more than 46,000 “likes,” including thousands from Muslims and Arabs.

“We live in a generation where people want to tell their story,” he said. “And every person has a story. You just have to know how to unlock it.”

Luckily for him, people in Tel Aviv are generally very outgoing. Still, Kaganovitz said, after six years and more than 1,000 profiles, he still gets butterflies when approaching a stranger.

“You have to know how to create an immediate intimacy with people. It helps if you approach in a humble way and are genuine,” he said.

Kaganovitz honed his interviewing skills during a stint several years ago as a researcher for a morning program on one of Israel’s main TV channels. His dexterity with a camera goes back to his days in the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesperson unit.

When asked which comes first, Kaganovitz the photographer or Kaganovitz the storyteller, he initially was stumped.

Ultimately, he said, the baseline is storytelling. “You need to have the story to know what goes in the frame,” he said. “There needs to be a synergy between the story and the picture.”

One of Kaganovitz’s most enduring images is of a young man with a tattoo on his forearm of the Holocaust number belonging to his grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor. The photo went viral, reaching more than 1 million people. He received many messages about it, he said, from Arab Muslims who said they had no idea about the Holocaust until they saw that picture and it made them understand the necessity of the State of Israel.

“If you have a story and a good picture, you can engage with people and better inform them,” Kaganovitz said. “I didn’t hammer people over the head with information about the Holocaust. I just put out a picture and people connected to it.”

The New Zionist Plants Vines, Not Trees

Adam Bellos.

Adam Bellos’ stated mission is as grandiose as his personality. “I’m here to reignite the Zionist movement,” he says, without an ounce of facetiousness.

Injecting new blood into Zionism was the impetus for The Israel Innovation Fund (TIIF), a nonprofit Bellos founded last year to highlight Israeli culture. He points to both demographics and the Jewish state’s evolving image when he asserts that North America has lost its crown to Israel as the center of the Jewish world.

“Israel is cool and sexy and holy and fun. It’s the creative state,” he says. “It’s not your bubbe’s Zionism. It’s about ‘Fauda,’ it’s about Gal Gadot. We are ‘Wonder Woman’ Zionism.”

TIIF, he’s quick to add, is composed of 60 percent women, and aside from its executive director, David Hazony, and newly appointed president, Ted Sokolsky, all of TIIF’s staff members are under 40.

Stopping short of naming names, Bellos takes a shot at the reigning kingpins of the Jewish world, charging them with being wholly out of touch with the drives and desires of young Jews.

“You’ve got these old guys in a New York office telling a 25-year-old in Israel what Zionism is when they have no idea,” he says. Rejuvenating Jewish identity isn’t about gala dinners and planting trees, says Bellos in a not-so-subtle jab at the Jewish National Fund.

“It’s not your bubbe’s Zionism. It’s about ‘Fauda,’ it’s about Gal Gadot. We are ‘Wonder Woman’ Zionism.” — Adam Bellos

TIIF’s millennial version of tree planting is its flagship project, Wine on the Vine. The online fundraising platform connects people to Israel by planting vines at select wineries, with the lion’s share of proceeds going to support Israeli charities. The organization also hosts revenue-positive parties, from Zionist-feminism soirees to wine tasting events in art galleries.

Not bad for a boy from Cincinnati who, by his own admission, wasn’t exactly an honor roll student. But there’s no love lost from Bellos for his hometown. “There’s a reason I left at 18 and never looked back,” he says.

Having always nurtured dreams of being a filmmaker, Bellos moved to Chicago to study film and theater. But a 2007 stint in a study-abroad program at Tel Aviv University turned out to be a life-altering experience that would put his Hollywood ambitions on the back burner.

“I fell in love with a girl and I fell in love with Zionism and I fell in love with Israel,” says Bellos, his face breaking into a million-watt smile.

Even when the romantic relationship fell through, Bellos knew without question that Israel would become his home. He returned to the United States to study Judaism and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Arizona before making aliyah and volunteering in the army. Two-and-a-half years later, Bellos left Jerusalem to accept a job in Ningbo, China, running a belly dance company.

After a year, Bellos returned, this time to Tel Aviv. He enrolled in a master’s degree program at Tel Aviv University, but he never quite found his place professionally. He dabbled in everything from volunteering with the city’s young, professional community to consulting for former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren for the 2015 election, in which Oren was elected to the Knesset. Eventually, Bellos settled on playing the stock market, a venture that proved lucrative enough for him to realize his real passion of promoting Zionism.

He’s unapologetically pragmatic about the checks and balances of his ideals.

“I gotta be the guy who makes the money,” he says. “There’s so much passion out there and all these people have these great ideas, but you need money.

“Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to launch the hottest Jewish organizations in existence.”

An Arab Comes Home to His Judaism

Mark Halawa

This is the story of a man born in Kuwait to a Palestinian-Muslim family and who today lives as an observant Jew in Jerusalem.

It is a story of slavery, of exodus and of personal redemption.

Some of the man’s tale has appeared in newspapers and video clips, and he has recounted it to audiences all over the world. But some of the story has been shrouded in secrecy and shame.

Until now.

Mark Halawa has been aware his entire life that he came from Jewish blood. When he was in the Palestinian Boy Scouts burning Israeli flags, or listening to his father rail against the “evil Zionists,” or learning math from a teacher who asked, “If one rocket could kill five Jews, how many rockets will it take to kill 35 Jews?”, he knew his maternal grandmother had been a Jew in Jerusalem. He did not know what that meant until years later when, while studying at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, he met a Jewish professor who told him that it meant he was also a Jew.

The revelation brought with it consternation, intrigue and delight in equal measure.

“I was shocked and interested and happy to belong to a multifaith family. It made me feel cool and special,” he said. “When you grow up with so much anti-Semitism, you have the utmost hate and the utmost curiosity.”

Halawa was full of questions. He began to explore. But he took care not to offend his parents, with whom he was still close. His father, a staunchly secular Palestinian nationalist who in the 1960s helped fund the establishment of the PLO, did not want to hear about it.

“I was so angry, I wanted to tell the whole world my story.” — Mark Halawa

When it came to his mother, Halawa remembered thinking that he would be able to talk with her more openly: “My mother is youthful. She’s funny. I tell her everything.”

He did not tell her, however, that he had moved from Canada to Jerusalem to study Torah at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. At the time, his mother was becoming a more religious Muslim — a move that eventually led his father to divorce her — so in a way she was glad her son had shed his partying “frat boy” lifestyle and was becoming more devout.

“We would speak in broad terms about God and godliness,” Halawa said.

But later, when Halawa was married and had made Jerusalem his permanent home, the gulf widened between his mother’s beliefs and his own.

Things came to a head with the birth of Halawa’s daughter. The happy event came in the wake of the Duma arson attack, which resulted in the deaths of three people, including a toddler. Jewish extremists were suspected of committing the crime.

Halawa sent a photo of his baby girl to his mother. Her response: “I hope she burns along with her mother. Just like those Jews burned that boy.”

That moment broke Halawa. He became deeply depressed, he said. “It burns a hole in my heart, but I don’t want to connect to my mother anymore. She sees my helpless child as an infidel Jew.”

Yet at the same time, the future was suddenly clear. All the ambivalence he had felt about speaking in public was gone. “I was no longer scared,” he said. “I was so angry, I wanted to tell the whole world my story.”

And tell it he did. Halawa made videos in Arabic for the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs that went viral, and he has established a nonprofit for pro-Israel outreach to the Arab world.

“I was enslaved by hate,” Halawa said. “I was under my mother’s thumb, even as a Jew. But that moment when I broke from my mother, I crossed the Red Sea.

“I was finally free.”

Her Poles Have a Particular Magnetism

A nun, a Charedi housewife and a U.N. official walk into a pole-dancing studio…

No, that’s not the beginning of a joke with a Middle Eastern twist, it’s just a random Monday at JPole, an exercise studio in Jerusalem owned by —  and the plot thickens — a religious settler.

Originally from Bet El, a Jewish community a stone’s throw from Ramallah, Ayelet Finkelstein opened her studio in the city center six years ago with strong ideals and a weak business plan. “I’m not a business person at all,” Finkelstein admitted. “I just wanted women to feel good about themselves.”

From that perspective, at least, the studio flourished. Women suffering from anorexia joined those battling obesity and with each spin of the pole their confidence bloomed.

But maintaining 1,600-square-feet of prime real estate in the Holy City was no easy task, and in August Finkelstein was forced to close her studio.

“You get to the point where you gave your soul and your heart and then you have nothing left on your plate to give,” she said.

But after the liens, the municipal fines, and the heart-gripping anxiety attacks, that’s when the yeshua — or divine redemption — steps in, she said. In her case, it came in the form of a loyal student who helped Finkelstein reopen her studio at an existing gym, saving her overhead costs.

“In here, you strip your clothes and your preconceived notions.”  — Ayelet Finkelstein

Finkelstein views pole dancing as a form of exercise like any other but she doesn’t dismiss the sexy side to it. She runs the gamut of pole classes — from a focus on the sport’s athletic, acrobatic side to classes that combine the pole with contemporary dance.

Pole-dancing is for everyone, Finkelstein insists. And a peek into the studio’s dressing room unearths a veritable cross-section of Jerusalem society: A nun’s habit lying next to an Orthodox woman’s sheitel (wig) with a pair of killer heels tossed into the mix.

“In here, you strip your clothes and your preconceived notions,” she said without a trace of irony. “So that when you look inside the studio and everyone’s in their underclothes, we all look the same.”

Jerusalem might be fraught with conflict, but a place like JPole draws out the peace in people, Finkelstein said, before going on to describe an absurd scene from a student recital. For over a year, she had taught pole-dancing to first-graders from the Eritrean and Filipino foreign workers’ communities who were brought to her by the nuns. Finkelstein’s eyes lit up as she described the priest in his black cassock, oversized cross and flowing beard who had come to watch the student recital.

“Where else would you see such a mix of people? Well, except for the tram, I mean,” she laughed, referring to the Jerusalem light-rail system that famously brings together the most incongruent sectors of society.

The studio also acted as a second home for many women, she said, giving them community, friendship and a sense of belonging in a judgment-free setting. One of them was Zaida Catalan, a Swedish national stationed in the region as a European Union worker educating Palestinian police officers on gender-based violence. She hated her job, Finkelstein said, and would often linger in the studio’s kitchen, drinking coffee and chatting to other women hours after her pole class was over.

Catalan eventually moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo to work for the U.N.  Tragically, she was killed there in a murder-decapitation that made headlines around the world.

The fact that I’m hearing this story from Finkelstein, a soft-spoken woman with a modest air about her, makes it even more harrowing.

But Finkelstein is used to jolting people out of the comfort of pigeon-holing.

Does she still have people with crazy stories in the studio’s current incarnation?

“This is Jerusalem,” she said, and then smiled. “Everyone has a crazy story.”

Spending Time With a Watchmaker

Boris Sankov

Boris Sankov holds court behind a heavily armed steel door, tucked away in a corner of the L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Arts in Jerusalem, where he is responsible for repairing and maintaining the museum’s vast collection of watches.

Sankov, 77, his silver-gray hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, is delighted to show off his workshop, filled with dozens of lathes and small mechanical devices. He speaks deliberately, in heavily-accented Hebrew, with Russian words thrown in.

“Did you ever see a young watchmaker?” he asks proudly, not waiting for an answer. “No one does this kind of work anymore. It’s too demanding, and you really can’t make any money. But these watches here are special.”

In addition to its collection of Islamic art, the museum is also home to one of the world’s most spectacular collections of rare watches, clocks and music boxes, most from the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection includes 55 timepieces that were made by the famous Parisian watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823).

The value of the collection is hundreds of millions of dollars. About half of the watches are on display next door, in a temperature-regulated, darkened hall,  protected by state-of-the-art security systems.

“Did you ever see a young watchmaker? No one does this kind of work anymore.” — Boris Sankov

“I am the only one who is allowed to handle and wind the watches,” Sankov says. That includes the Marie Antoinette watch, valued at about $30 million.

The collection, which once belonged to David Lionel Salomons (1851-1925), the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, was stolen in 1983 by Na’aman Diller, a notorious Israeli international antiquities thief. The collection was discovered 25 years later and nine of the 106 watches were returned. Some of the pieces were rusted or their mechanisms had been warped by humidity. Worse, Diller had dismantled most of the watches and stored their intricate, precious parts in medicine bottles, shoe boxes and other unlikely places and then scattered them across the world.

“That’s when the museum called on me,” Sankov says. “They had heard of my reputation.

“OK, I’m a schvitzer, a showoff. I know that. Look at what I have done here. These watches were made by hand hundreds of years ago, and the tools to fix them and the parts we need don’t exist anymore. So I make my own lathes, my own springs. I invent machines.”

Sankov grew up in the Soviet Union. His grandfather had been a watchmaker, his father a jeweler and his mother a doctor. “Ach, we were once a big family — my mother had eight brothers and sisters. But the war and the Nazis took them all.”

He and his immediate family survived by going into hiding. After the war, the family settled in Ukraine. His mother had been Jewish, but Sankov was not raised as a Jew and did not even know he was Jewish. He had heard anti-Semitic comments but didn’t know they were about him until one day he overheard people talking about him.

In 1972, he left for Israel. “I hated the goyim and they hated me, so it was time to go.”

In Israel, he became a gym teacher and fixed watches on the side. But it became difficult to find parts for the older watches. And, he says, few people care.

“I once fixed a clock owned by Haim Nahman Bialik [a famous Hebrew language poet]. It plays “Hatikvah” every hour. Who cares about watches and clocks anymore?” he continues. “Now, everything is automatic. It’s annoying, but, nu, what can you do? The world moves on. Actually,” he smiles, “I don’t wear a watch anymore, either. I just look at my smartphone.”

Eetta Prince-Gibson is editor-in-chief of the Israeli-based Jerusalem Report.

From Seattle to the Settlements: One Man’s Journey Towards Reconciliation

Shaul Judelman

Shaul Judelman experienced what he calls the “peak of [his] anti-Arabism” when in 2008 Shlomo Nativ, a 13-year-old boy from his West Bank community of Bat Ayin, was brutally murdered with an axe to the head by a Palestinian terrorist.

“It was easy to feel the hate then,” Judelman recalled.

But a Talmudical lesson Judelman was grappling with around that time marked a turning point in his life. “A person who harbors anger it’s as if he has transgressed the sin of idol worship,” Jewish sages taught.

“That was a gut check on a personal level,” Judelman said. “Anger has no place in the camp of Israel.”

The epiphany led Judelman, a secular Seattle native turned settler rabbi, to ask himself deep questions about his relationship with his Palestinian neighbors. Does it have to be war until the end of time? And if it’s not us against them, then what? “The root of the conflict is anger and fear,” Judelman explains, “and most of our politics are written out by those emotions.”

The equation was a simple one. If anger plus fear equals hate, the mission is to reduce the two variables. So together with Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian who served two stints in Israeli jails for stone throwing, Judelman founded Roots. Today Roots runs summer camps for Palestinian and Israeli children from 5 – 16 years old, yearlong programs for young adults, workshops – basically, anything that can bring Palestinians and Israelis from the West Bank to encounter each other in a forum other than a checkpoint or roadside clash.

Judelman harbors no illusions about solving the world’s most protracted conflict – “I don’t come to Roots with this leaping sense of, ‘Oh, any moment this conflict will end” – and he blames both the left and the right in Israel for being myopic. The left isn’t able to accept that the Second Intifada buried the two state solution beyond resurrection while the right is stuck on the mantra that there is no partner for peace. While on a political level that might be so, Judelman says, his experience has shown that the same cannot be said for civil society.

He recalls a recent photography workshop he ran during which Palestinian parents were dropping off their kids just as a car-ramming attack was taking place outside. “You see what’s going on out there and what’s going on in here. What’s going on out there is because we, the parents, have failed,” he said.

“It’s about taking responsibility. If I can’t solve the conflict I can at least make sure that the kids in my community are not racist,” he said.

But if there is an opportunity to advance peace, Judelman says, it will happen through the prism of Torah and Zionism. This idea, which may seem so counterintuitive, is one that was espoused by Judelman’s teacher and mentor, the late Rabbi Menachem Froman. Froman met with Palestinian leaders – even with members of the upper echelons of terror group Hamas – and sought to find common dialogue with the other side through a foundation of faith.

Judelman started becoming interested in Judaism when, as a sophomore in college, he spent time on Sde Eliyahu, a religious kibbutz, as part of a semester abroad program in 2000. It was shmittah year – the agriculture sabbatical – and everything that that entailed grabbed him.

“In the Diaspora you live your Judaism on the level of self, family and maybe community,” he said. Yet in Israel Judelman learned that the way the land is treated affects the macro-economics of the entire society. “You ask, ‘is it mine or is it a blessing that I’ve received?” And you apply that in an economic way.” So Judelman stayed and enrolled in a yeshiva in Bat Ayin.

Around that time, the Second Intifada kicked off and the years that ensued became an endless smear of suicide attacks, funerals, condemnations – including a lack thereof – and a seemingly bottomless well of anger. And yet Judelman recalls visiting the U.S. for his graduation and experiencing a profound disconnect from his peers. “How can you explain what it means to be a part of the project of Israel? They thought I was crazy and I felt like I had 10 billion dollars in my pocket.”

Judelman, in his own small way, sought to break the tension. He would frequently travel from his yeshiva to the Mahane Yehuda marketplace in Jerusalem to play the saxophone. His wild man’s peyot would sway to the sultry notes of his sax while elderly vendors would yell at him to shut up. Old Jerusalemite women with heaving shopping carts would pause long enough to drop a shekel into his hat and, if they were lucky, to forget the conflict for one fleeting moment.

Does he ever just feel like giving up over the futility of it all?

“I’m a nose to the grindstone kind of person; what am I going to do complain about it?” he asked wryly.

“Anyway, even within a very broken situation it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do.”

Serving the People at Yossi’s Place

Yossi Shitrit

Yossi Shitrit’s Israeliness is so archetypal, it’s as if he’s a living, breathing stereotype of the Israeli male. His cockiness, his accent, his irreverence, his ambition, his total lack of fear, his doelike blue eyes and carefully groomed stubble, his tattoos, his confidence — he’s sexy, and he knows it.

Yossef (Yossi) Shitrit is the 34-year-old co-owner and chef, along with partner David (Dudu) Almakias, of David and Yossef, a wildly popular Tel Aviv dining destination with a “downtown” vibe. Luxury cars more at home in Beverly Hills than Tel Aviv’s Rothschild neighborhood pull up outside the restaurant on Montefiore Street. Since opening nine years ago, David and Yossef has attracted Israel’s fashionistas, politicians, high-tech entrepreneurs, glamourati and a lot of gorgeous young women. But although they may come to “see and be seen,” the majority of the restaurant’s returning clientele come back for the food — and for Dudu and Yossi.

Born in Haifa, Shitrit has a love for the Israeli kitchen almost as old as he is. He remembers his grandmother, of Iraqi descent, holding him as a baby while she cooked in her kitchen. And while he loves his mother’s sambusak and red rice, when asked what he likes best about his grandmother’s cooking, he replied: “Everything. I worship her cooking.” The Israeli stereotype deepens as Shitrit goes on about his grandmother: “She has magic in her hands.”

As much respect as Shitrit has for the “fancy, nice, high-end” food on his menu, the food, it seems, is just a conduit. Shitrit’s dining dogma is more holistic. “It’s not about cooking; it’s about people,” he said. “I like to host people. Connect with new people, make new relationships. Cooking is the way to connect, to sit around the table and talk.”

“I like to host people. Connect with new people, make new relationships. Cooking is the way to connect.” — Yossi Shitrit

The graffiti on the main wall of the restaurant intentionally tries to break down the barrier between the haute cuisine and the fun, casual vibe.

“The atmosphere is our atmosphere,” Shitrit said. We’re not trying to be like a Michelin three-star restaurant. We just want to see people having fun.”

David and Yossef opened after the two chefs met while working in the kitchen of one of the city’s more established fine dining restaurants. They instantly connected and decided to do something for themselves. This drive became the first David and Yossef, a 250-square-foot restaurant in a former sandwich bar in Tel Aviv’s old north neighborhood. From the start, the eatery was packed. When asked why they have been so successful in the increasingly competitive Tel Aviv dining scene for close to a decade, Yossi said adamantly: “We are hosting people in our home. We are here all day, every day.”

It’s the combination of sophistication and lack of pretense that continues to draw crowds. When asked about his favorite dish, Shitrit doesn’t choose the foie gras or the perfect egg, the tuna sashimi or the popcorn shrimp. He chooses, like the typical Israeli he is, the local dish: the shawarma. “The dish has been with us since the minute we started; it’s been on every menu we’ve had,” he said. “Nine years: the same dish, the same recipe, the same pita. The shawarma is us. The spices, the meat — it’s us, it’s our country, our neighborhood. Our story is in this dish.”

But he doesn’t want to talk about any of this, really. It’s history. He’s focused on the future: two new restaurants in Russia — Moscow and St. Petersburg. But what gets him the most excited is the medical cannabis vaporizer company in which he is a partner. Because, of course, any Israeli male archetype must also have a startup.

Kaptain Sunshine Shines His Light

Yosef Abramowitz

Yosef Abramowitz, the larger-than-life CEO of Israel’s Energiya Global, has been called many things: entrepreneur, activist, environmentalist, ambassador, prophet, futurist, authority, rebel, crazy. However, there is one moniker that all can agree on: Kaptain Sunshine (also his Twitter handle). A fitting name for the man leading the Jewish, and in some ways, global, charge to make the world a brighter place, both literally and figuratively.

Abramowitz is a leading figure in the solar energy revolution. At the helm of the multimillion dollar Energiya Global, a Jerusalem-based green energy developer focusing on building solar fields in Africa, Abramowitz tends to operate in some of the most remote places on the planet. Energiya Global projects are currently in various stages throughout more than 10 African countries, from Burundi to South Sudan.

Africa has more than 600 million people without access to electricity. It also has, as Abramowitz loves to point out, 11 of the 20 fastest-growing economies in the world. Where others see only challenges, he sees massive potential.

Energiya Global is first and foremost a private company seeking to generate profits, so there is, of course, the financial bottom line. Additionally, the company produces tremendous humanitarian, environmental and geopolitical game-changing results with each field it builds. Full of examples, Abramowitz is at his best when he is revved up about the snowball effect of solar power on all aspects of society. The reduction in gender-based violence when a local food market is lit at night. The predominance of diesel engines in Africa killing millions each year with toxic fumes. The support in the United Nations by African nations buoyed by Israeli technology.

Like the early Zionist leaders whom he so admires, Abramowitz is a man of action. In 2011, after moving to Kibbutz Ketura (near Eilat) with his family from the Boston area, he successfully built the first solar field in the Middle East. Despite the myriad of obstacles throughout the years, this pioneering project which will reach its full capacity in 2020, fulfilling its promise to power the entire Arava region by 100 percent solar energy during the day.

“My becoming an environmental activist isn’t because I am necessarily ‘green.’ It is because I am a human and a creation of God.” — Yosef Abramowitz

His success can be attributed to his comfort with risk, something he holds as a core Jewish value. He said, “Our work now of bringing solar to Africa via Energiya Global is largely about the art and science of risk mitigation.”

It is also a result of a lot of chutzpah, or as Abramowitz said, “pushing the boundaries of what is possible.” He reflected: “One of the great cultural features of Israel as Startup Nation is that so many people are celebrated for trying innovating, experimenting and dreaming.”

Deeply rooted in Abramowitz’s every action is a deep faith and respect for the Jewish tradition. “My becoming an environmental activist isn’t because I am necessarily ‘green,’ ” he said. “It is because I am a human and a creation of God.”

It is this perspective that helps him inspire so many around the globe, not just those who are friendly to the environmental movement or proponents of renewable energy. He reframes the imperative to change our polluting and wasteful ways from that of an environmental perspective to that of a human perspective.

“Perhaps we should be emphasizing, instead, the teaching that we are all created in God’s image and therefore must take actions immediately to reduce our moral culpability on the effects of climate change.”

Compassion Is Part of Treatment

Dr. Ihab Mansoure. Photo courtesy of Yad Sarah

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.

Staying in Israel at Great Cost

Lysann Bendel

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.”

From UC Davis to the Judean Hills

Eran Pick. Photo by Yair Shvartz

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.”

Dispatching ‘Ambassadors’ for Israel

Eyal Biram. Photo by Jonathan Lee

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.

An Israeli at the Ends of the Earth

Natalie Silverlieb

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.

Settler Opens Her Home to Peace

Caroline Schuhl Schattner

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.”

The Angel of Jaffa

Photo by Deborah Danan

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.”