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Throughout the seven decades since it declared independence, Israel has waged a struggle for legitimacy, navigating the global arena to find its place among the nations. While many factors went into Israeli independence, the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 and subsequent Resolution 181 laid the foundation. For Israel’s 69th Independence Day, JNS.org looks at how four countries actively involved in the historic 1947 vote not only shaped Israeli history, but have robust current relationships with the Jewish state and might play key roles in the country’s future.
With its forces vastly outnumbered by Arab armies, Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence was widely considered a modern-day miracle. The Jewish state shocked the world again in 1967 by significantly expanding its borders and reunifying Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. In 2017, the perceived miracles keep coming. Ahead of the 69th Israeli Independence Day, JNS.org recounts five of Israel’s latest crowning achievements.
For Holocaust survivors’ grandchildren like Beckah Restivo, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum works to anchor family stories in a historical context. Much of the museum’s resources come from the International Tracing Service, an archive of Holocaust records established by the Allies after the war. The archive boasts millions of pages of documentation. “Everything I know about my family history, besides my grandfather’s and great-uncle’s actual firsthand accounts, has been driven by the resources at the museum, and I’m so grateful,” says Restivo.
It isn’t the super-sized Jewish experience of New York City or some of its suburbs. But for observant Jews, New York State’s Mid-Hudson Valley still has plenty to offer. You could play more than your fill of Bingo, attend a weekly Torah class, immerse in a beautifully maintained mikvah or even attend a Jewish War Veterans meeting. Yet in the nearly 130-year history of Poughkeepsie’s organized Jewish community, carrying any possession in public on Shabbat—without violating the laws of the day of rest—was out of the question. Now that Poughkeepsie finally has an eruv to enable carrying on Shabbat, the community can assume its place “on the Jewish map,” says the synagogue vice president who spent six years advocating for the eruv.
At an antiques flea market in Berlin, one of several stands proudly displays two Hanukkah menorahs for sale. The husky, white-haired seller explains how one of them probably came from Königsberg, a former German city in modern Russia. The other is easy to identify: a plaque indicates it was gifted by an Israeli organization to a German-Jewish benefactor in 1992. While Jewish victims and their organizational representatives have, over the years, processed claims for real estate, businesses and works of art seized by the Nazis, Jews’ more mundane Holocaust-era property may still be circulating in antique shops and households, unbeknownst to the current buyers or owners. “How do you establish what ordinary household goods belonged to a family that was murdered?” asks Dr. Christoph Kreutzmüller, a curator at Berlin’s Jewish Museum.
The Israeli start-up SolarPaint’s technology can generate solar power by putting a nanoparticle-infused coating—known as “photovoltaic paint”—on roofs, walls and in the future, even roads. This technology could be a game-changer, directly confronting the problem of limited land resources that has traditionally challenged the solar industry. Eran Maimon, SolarPaint’s chief technology officer, foresees a significant change in the way electricity is delivered to consumers. “I think we will have more ‘prosumers’—producers that are also consumers,” he says.
Passover’s mostly gluten-free diet won’t have many health consequences for most Jews observing the holiday—but it could have some real benefits for some of them. Eight days is just long enough for a gluten-free diet to result in noticeable health gains for people who may have celiac disease without realizing it. Improvements in digestion, energy level or sense of mental clarity during a weeklong bread, pasta and beer-free holiday could indicate that someone has an undiagnosed celiac condition, explains Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Northwell Health’s Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Israel takes pride in being an oasis for gender equality in a Mideast region largely bereft of women’s rights, and this attitude extends to the Jewish state’s military. At the same time, for a nation facing ever-present security threats both internally and on its borders, gender equality has its limits. “The mission of the army is to protect and win. We need to understand that the mission of the army is not equal opportunity,” Brigadier General (Res.) Gila Klifi-Amir, who has served as an adviser on women’s issues to the IDF chief of staff, said at an April 3 event in New York.
Self-driving cars. Drip irrigation. Missile defense. Milk? Amid all the buzz around Israel’s “start-up nation,” including Intel’s recent $15 billion acquisition of Mobileye, a lesser-known phenomenon is the high-tech and hyper-efficient Israeli dairy industry. Surprised? Don’t be. The combination of Israelis’ high demand for dairy products and the Jewish state’s well-documented ingenuity makes the cutting-edge dairy industry a natural development in what the Bible describes as a “land flowing with milk and honey.”
Ever since Michael Kagan, 60, was a boy growing up in the U.K., each detail of his father’s escape from a Nazi labor camp has ricocheted through his mind and heart. Now, in his new documentary “Tunnel of Hope,” the son is sharing his father’s story with the world. It’s a story that Jack Kagan had fought to keep alive, recording not only the escape, but the murders of the vast majority of the Jews of Novogrudok—a city in Belarus—who were dead long before that fateful night. “He was driven, determined to get it out there,” says Michael Kagan.
Beyond the scent of potent cannabis drifting about the venue, there was an extra buzz in the air this year at Israel’s third annual CannaTech medical marijuana innovation conference. Earlier in March, the Israeli Knesset passed a new law essentially decriminalizing recreational marijuana use nationwide. Given that development, it was high time for this week’s CannaTech conference. But amid the attention-grabbing legislation on recreational marijuana, CannaTech continued its traditional focus on showcasing the ingenuity of Israel’s medical marijuana practitioners. This year’s conference was “double the size” of last year’s summit, said Saul Kaye, CEO of the iCAN: Israel-Cannabis organization, which runs the annual gathering.
If you have eaten at a high-end kosher restaurant sometime during the last decade, chances are that someone working for that restaurant was a student, or a student’s student, of Chef Avram Wiseman. The chef instructor welcomes the first cohort of students May 1 for the Brooklyn-based Kosher Culinary Center, which calls itself “the only kosher culinary school outside of Israel to offer professional training in the culinary and pastry arts.” But until now, Wiseman’s far-reaching industry footprint has flown under the radar. “Avram Wiseman is like a walking iPhone 7—fully charged, on steroids, with every app already downloaded, full of knowledge and fun,” said David Kolotkin, the former executive chef at New York’s Prime Grill kosher steakhouse.
When shooting the movie Exodus, Paul Newman was a frequent visitor in Achzivland, and Rina Avivi seems to be proud of it. Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Bar Refaeli also apparently got their summer tans in this remote and idyllic bay situated only a stone’s throw away from the Lebanese border and Nahariya, Israel’s northernmost city. “I met Sophia when I just moved to Achzivland. She taught me how to make real good spaghetti,” recalls the 70-year-old Avivi, who starts laughing. It comes as no surprise that the rich and famous gathered on this little stretch of beach to get a glimpse of this controversial place and its inhabitants. Nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the green hills of the Galilee, about 9 miles north of Acre, lies the empire called Achzivland. It has been more than 60 years since fisherman Eli Avivi founded this micro-state spanning 3.5 acres, limited by the country road on the right and the ocean waves on the left.
Part of the widely admired strength of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) comes from the military’s many “lone soldiers,” who leave their homes and families abroad in order to help protect the Jewish homeland. Significant media attention has focused on Israeli lone soldiers in recent years, particularly after two American-born soldiers were killed in the 2014 Gaza war. There are currently three “homes” that provide lone soldiers with communal living quarters, camaraderie and support. Until now, female lone soldiers—who fill key behind-the-scenes roles in the IDF, and are increasingly joining combat units—have not enjoyed the same group residential facilities as their male counterparts. But that is likely about to change.
In an ever-polarizing age in America, nonprofits often need to decide how to make their organization’s voice or constituency’s voice heard on policy issues without making overtly political statements. Such was the delicate balancing act navigated by the BBYO Jewish teen movement and the thousands of attendees at its recent International Convention. President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on the entry of non-citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations continues to dominate the national discourse, and BBYO’s convention was no exception, with the travel ban and the refugee issue frequently finding their way into speeches and discussions. “We’re very sensitive to this concept of everyone being at odds about how they feel we should be handling the global refugee situation,” said Aaron Cooper, the top youth leader in BBYO’s men’s order, AZA. “With that in consideration, we found success in not framing it as a conversation on whether we are we letting refugees into one country or another. Rather, it’s about, ‘What are we going to do so that we are helping them in some capacity?’”
An interview with Aaron Mantell and Danielle Wadler, two teens from New York, is drowned out by chanting students passing by. Welcome to the BBYO International Convention. “It’s a little overwhelming, but it always ends up being really really fun. Like you get past the overwhelming, and you get used to a thousand people screaming at you all day,” says Wadler, 17. The enthused BBYO delegates who interrupt the interview, en route to the convention’s opening ceremony Feb. 16, are just the tip of the iceberg. The energetic opening ceremony is nothing short of the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games. The pluralistic Jewish youth movement’s convention drew 5,000 people from 48 U.S. states and 30 countries. “The global nature of what we offer is a differentiator in their lives. There’s nowhere else, or very few places, where a teen from Dallas, Texas, can find a best friend from Slovakia,” says Matt Grossman, BBYO’s CEO.
It’s hard to believe that 27 female recent high school graduates living in a few modest buildings on a hilltop northeast of Jerusalem are the cause of an intense debate within Israel’s national-religious population. The young women are students at Mechinat Lapidot, one of only two pre-army preparatory programs in Israel for girls who come from Torah-observant homes. The community where their preparatory academy has been located for two years, Ma’ale Michmas, recently voted to ask the program to leave. The decision reflects a split in Israel’s national-religious sector, with some families preferring that their daughters pursue the traditional national service option after high school, rather than sign up for army service. But a growing number of Torah-observant girls are opting to take on more challenging roles in the Israel Defense Forces.
“Be careful not to spoil or destroy my world—for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it,” God says in a Midrash in Kohelet Rabbah. For more than a century, Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which calls itself “Israel’s largest environmental organization,” has followed that tenet by preserving nature in the Jewish state. The organization, which marked its 115th anniversary last month, launched a nationwide campaign for the Tu B’Shvat holiday in which more than half a million people are expected to participate in planting events through Feb. 17. JNS.org recounts the history behind how both the Tu B’Shvat holiday and the KKL-JNF organization have become synonymous with planting trees in Israel.
The Orthodox Union (OU) this week issued an unprecedented statement announcing the establishment of a far-reaching policy regarding women and leadership positions in synagogue life. Citing extensive research by a rabbinic commission, the OU concluded that its member synagogues may not employ women as rabbis, but strongly encouraged other types of leadership positions for women. In addition to stating outright that women can and should teach Torah, including on advanced and sophisticated levels, the OU statement also encourages women to lecture on Torah topics and share Torah insights; to assume communally significant roles in pastoral counseling, in bikur cholim (visiting the sick), in community outreach to the religiously affiliated and unaffiliated, and in youth programming; and to advise on issues of family purity, in conjunction with local rabbinic authorities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Jan. 31 at Cybertech 2017, the world's second-largest cybertechnology exhibition, said it is “no coincidence that you are here in Israel” and “not an accident” that the Jewish state is a world leader in cybersecurity. “I think we're truly on the cutting edge of this new technology and we've had many successes in ensuring our security,” he said. “It’s not an accident, as one would say. It's not an accident that in the froth and gushing of this entire Middle East and beyond, Israel is a secure and safe environment. We have invested in our security in creative ways, successful ways.”