Monday, August 2, 2010

Two Schools Rebuilt at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai

Kibbutz Yad Mordechai is the home of two Hof Ashkelon regional schools:

Hofim, one of three elementary schools in the Hof Ashkelon region
Shikma, the regional secondary school (7th to 12th grade).

Since the kibbutz is less than two miles from the Gaza Strip, the school needs to be fortified to protect the children in case of any missile attack.  The new Iron Dome system is supposed to work, but it will only be affective four miles or more from the Gaza Strip. 

Therefore, the school needs buildings that are built to withstand a direct missile hit, from a Qassam, Grad, or whatever. 

A year or two ago, "portable" classrooms were brought in that had been in the Gaza Strip and were used for many of the students at Shikma.  However, they did not have bathrooms, and students had to go outside to get to the bathrooms.  They also were small, and could not easily hold up to 30 students.  Most of the two schools, however, had not been built to sustain such attacks.  Therefore, the government is in the process of building new schools.


Shikma is 2/3rds finished with four of the six modules ready to use.

2 of the new buildings at Shikma

The empty space is where the English teachers had their own room,
a thing of the past and new module in background
The contractor for the secondary school uses construction crew mostly from China.  In the US construction work pays quite well, but not so in Israel.  However, Chinese and Romanians are delighted to work in construction.
Contruction Workers from China

The building above was the "new" Shikma library two or three years ago.  It will be torn down after it is replaced by a more secure building

Hofim is going to be adjacent to Shikma, with a wall or fence separating the students from the two schools.  It, hopefully, will be finished during the school year.  The contractor for Hofim employs mostly Israeli Arab or Palestinian workers.

Also, each home on Yad Mordechai has to have a "secure" room with extra thick walls and roofs.  Many people have been remodeling/expanding their homes to up to 130 square meters (1400 sq. feet), so in the process have added a secure room. Others have had secure rooms built on by the government.

Safe room on the right
Security room attached to a home
Right now the yards in a good part of the kibbutz are in disarray from the construction but they will soon be restored to their normal beauty.

Kohav Nolad in Hof Ashkelon--a delightful evening!

On July 27th, I (Dina Tanners) was treated to a wonderful evening at the Hof Ashkelon regional center auditorium. 

Before that night, 70 children (ages 7 to 12  from many communities in Hof Ashkelon auditioned for the Israeli version of a American Idol, Kohav Nolad  (A Star Is Born) כוכב נולד .  Ten children in 8 groups  (two duets) from ages 8 to 12 made the finals. They were from Nitzan, Kibbutz Karmia, and Moshav Talme Yafa.  Many were 9 1/2.  A small group of "supporters" who danced in the background also accompanied several of the groups.  They were children and teens from the local area. 

It had been the custom in one of the communities in Gaza for the children to have an annual Kohav Nolad competition.  When many of them moved to temporary housing in Nitzan Bet, they continued the tradition.  This year, the regional council of Hof Ashkelon decided to make it a regional competition, and with 70 auditioning, it was quite successful.  The talent was amazing!

The first to perform were twin sisters, age 9 and a half from Kibbutz Karmia.
Twin Sisters from Kibbutz Karmia
They were very very cute and fun to watch.  I was surprised to realize that they were lip sinc-ing and not singing, but I was told for this age group, it probably was the best as they were less nervous.

Before each performance, there was a short video, interviewing the participants.  They introduced themselves and told what they loved to do in addition to singing.  You can see the screen in the backgrounds.

Both the 2nd and 3rd peformers had husky voices, stronger than I would have expected for anyone that age.  They both have tremendous potential with training.

Second performer, also 9ish, from Nitzan

The theme for the song contest was songs from the army bands, so each performer had to choose an appropriate song.  There are many amazing songs that the military bands have performed.  Such groups have come to the US many times. 

The fourth performer was Shir, an 11-year-old from Nitzan.  When she began to sing, I was blown away by the maturity of her voice.   It was amazing.

The girls that danced in the background had different costumes for each performance.  The change below must have been the third set of costumes and more were to come.
Another 9 year old
End of Song--with Entourage
Pair from Nitzan
I was wondering if any boys made it to the finals when this duet came on stage.  They too were very cute, and the boy especially had a strong voice.  Revital said that he originally was quite nervous and not sure of performing but got stronger and more confident as he continued to practice.

When the seventh performer came on stage and began to sing, this twelve-year-old also blew me away.  I had been named one of the 6 judges (as an honor to me as American chair of the TIPS partnership), and I knew I would have a tough time deciding between her (Valerie) and Shir for first place. 
She too had a strong voice and also a great stage presence.

We were also asked to choose our "favorite" performer...and not base the decision on singing quality but just on gut instinct, cuteness, stage presence, whatever.  The last performer, Shon, the yougest of the group at age 8, was the winner.  He was adorable.


The audience was animated, and groups came with signs supporting their favorites.

Supporters of Liav and friend form Nitzan

After the individual performances, as the votes of the 6 judges were tabulated, the 10 performers sang together.

The award staff is at work below.  The woman on the left is from Hof Ashkelon and was on the national TV show Kohav Nolad several years ago.  She is blind.  Dina is 3rd from the left.
Handing Out Gifts to the Finalists
The Winner--Valerie from Moshav Talmeh Yaffeh
The top three places were awarded to:
First Place:      Valerie from Talmeh Yaffeh  ולרי דבורקין- תלמי יפה
Second Place:  Shir from Nitzan     שירי יפרח- ניצן
Third Place:     Sapir from Talmeh Yaffeh    ספיר קסר-- תלמי יפה

Congratuations to all the participants.  They were wonderful!!

Schwartz family celebrates KM's 60th anniversary & special Bar Mitzvah

Today was not our first visit to Kiryat Malachi during this trip. Last week we had the pleasure to attend the 60th Anniversary celebration for the city. It was exciting to see a dozen or more members of the Knesset in attendance along with the city’s Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Council members. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a gentleman who had moved to Kiryat Malachi at it’s founding. Periodically during the ceremony he would tap me on the shoulder to tell me one interesting fact or another about the early days of Kiryat Malachi. He told me how people lived in tents, the limited kinds of food they ate, and much more. He was really a very interesting source of information about the community that I had not heard previously.

The celebration was filled with speakers, a take off on "The Amazing Race", as well as song and dance. What was so gratifying was how much of a role our partnership played in the celebration. Among the entertainment were the dancers that performed at our local Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration this past April. An example of the role our Federation played was to fund the creation of "Art City" which brought together what had been separate clubs involved in song, dance and music. Our initiative brought these groups (along with dramatic arts groups) together under the auspices of one coordinated performance troupe.

During the celebration, it was fun to see a "rock band" made up of teenagers, performing with young singers and fabulous dancers, which together created an amazing spectacle for all in attendance. During the performance, I asked our Israeli staff person if I had a right to feel the kind of pride I was feeling and his response was "absolutely". It was truly a one of a kind experience that I don’t think I will ever forget.

After spending our final Shabbat (for this trip) in Jerusalem, which is always a highlight of travel to Israel, we began to pack our bags for our move to Kiryat Malachi. Upon our arrival we receive a friendly welcome by others living in the same complex. We are now looking forward to our time in Kiryat Malachi as we prepare to spend some time volunteering. Our first assignment will be at one of the local schools where we, including our children, will have an opportunity to help local youth develop their English skills. We also hope to work with some after-school programs that will enable us to interact with some of the families who live in this community. I anticipate that this opportunity will certainly add an important element to our experience here in Israel and for my children, especially my eldest, to understanding in very real terms what it means to be part of a Jewish people worldwide.

Jacob, son of Adam (president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix) and Stacey Schwartz, became a Bar Mitzvah at Yad Mordechai. This kibbutz in our TIPS Partnership Hof Ashkelon region was the site of an important battle during Israel’s War of Independence. Jacob conducted a Monday morning service, chanted the Torah portion and led a discussion on the d’var Torah. He gave his interpretation of the Torah reading, first in Hebrew and then in English, to the surprise and delight of everyone, especially the Israelis. Yair Farjun, chair of the Hof Ashkelon regional council, presented the celebrant with a copy of Pirke Avot, and a group of Ethiopian women prepared lunch afterward. These women had visited Phoenix and Tucson as part of the TIPS Women’s Ethnic Cooking Project last fall, when Jacob struck up a friendship with them, leading them to offer to cater his simcha. Also, thanks to modern technology, the celebrants were able to Skype the entire service back to family members in the United States

Shabbat in Kiryat Malachi, Schwartz Family, June 2010

June 28, 2010 at 12:57 PM

I have spent a fair amount of time in Kiryat Malachi during past missions/trips to Israel. But I have never spent a full Shabbat in this city that makes up part of our TIPS partnership.

As this past week ended and we prepared to celebrate Shabbat here, I was excited to see how it compared to my experiences in other communities in which I have celebrated Shabbat.

As Friday moved along, we could definitely sense a change in the community. Stores were closing early. There was less and less traffic on the streets. A calm was beginning to settle in that would accompany us through our celebration of Shabbat.

As the time for Shabbat began, we lit candles in our apartment and headed out for Shabbat dinner at the home of the Attal family. I have known Dvora Attal for many years as she plays a critical role in our partnership on behalf of the Kiryat Malachi municipality. And I had celebrated Shabbat dinner with her family once before many years ago. I was looking forward to having an enjoyable evening celebrating the start of Shabbat. And a wonderful evening it was. The food was outstanding. The company was even better. My wife and children loved being with Dvora’s family who could not have been more hospitable. They helped get our Shabbat off to a wonderful start. My wife and I had a very nice visit with our children as we walked home on the quiet streets of the city.

For lunch Saturday, we headed out on a lovely walk to the Peretz family home. This was not a family that I had spent time with, but I knew that they had been very involved with the partnership. I also knew that the art contest that we have run through the partnership was dedicated, in part, to their son who had passed away from cystic fibrosis. Once again, we had a delicious lunch. And, again, the company was even more wonderful. We talked about a whole range of things in Hebrew and in English. And our hosts could not have been more gracious to our children. They were able to see olive trees, fig trees, pomegranate trees and more…all in the yard of an urban Israeli home…They were amazed!

We had a lovely walk home, again on quite (but hot and sunny) streets of Kiryat Malachi. We had time for a quick nap, at least our two year old and me and my wife. And then it was off to another home for seudah shlishit, the third Shabbat meal. This time it was to the home of the Azriel family. Their daughter Shir is going to be leaving this coming week to work in the day camp at the Barness Family JCC. And, not to repeat myself, we had a terrific meal and fantastic company. We could not believe that it was after 11 p.m. when we finally packed the kids up for our walk home.

In thinking about this amazing, wonderful, uplifting day, a number of things really struck home with me. The first was how hospitable the families were towards me, my wife and our children. This was especially impressive given the fact that none of them had young children at home any longer.

The second thing that struck me had to do with the type of food we ate this Shabbat. At every meal, we enjoyed traditional Sephardic dishes that my children had never seen or heard of before. It was wonderful to be able to expose them to other aspects of Jewish life.

The third, and in fact the most important, was the connection that we have through our partnership and through being Jews. It did not matter whether or not we had known each other. And the respective levels of observance were unimportant. We were celebrating Shabbat together as Jewish people who shared that bond.

I have spent many Shabbat in Israel. But I am hard pressed to find any that were more meaningful or enjoyable. And my family and I are deeply grateful to the families in Kiryat Malachi who made it such a special day (and this past week) for us. We are looking forward to our last few days this coming week with a mix of happiness and regret. We have experienced so many incredible things and have made so many wonderful friends. And we look forward to building on these experiences in the future.

I wish you all a Shavua Tov and a wonderful week ahead.

Adam Schwartz, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix