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Sharing the love — bringing baseball to Israel

Kenneth Fried in Sderot at the dedication of a youth recreational center.

Dr. Kenneth Fried loves baseball. He also loves Israel.

Working with the Jewish National Fund, the Demarest resident — and chair of “Field of Dreams,” JNF’s “hardball mission to the Holy Land” — has found a way to combine those two interests.

Several years ago, Fried and his wife Sharon, both physicians, were approached by JNF to help establish a secure indoor recreational center for the youth population of Sderot. The couple seemed a likely choice, having provided outdoor recreation equipment to the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, where the bases are dedicated to their four daughters.

Coming from a family of athlete/physicians, Fried — a vascular surgeon whose parents, Drs. Seymour and Sylvia Fried, live in Tenafly — told the Standard at the time, “We feel physical education is part of growing up along with academics.”

“I was enamored of the experience,” Fried said of his involvement in the Sderot project. He was also impressed by the JNF projects he saw in Israel.

Now, his enthusiasm is directed toward another project. Approached once again by JNF — where he has been named to the group’s North Jersey board — he said “a light bulb went off” when he realized that the competitive men’s baseball games he’s been participating in here could also be played in Israel.

Part of a baseball league dubbed “A League of Our Own,” which includes 18 teams, Fried says “probably a third of the members are Jewish, because of the demographics.”

Members play both in North Jersey and in Florida. One of his team members is Fair Lawn resident Ritchard Rosen, who will be participating in the Israel trip.

Fried thought, “Why not do this in Israel as well?” he said.

The plan came together when he was on a bus, speaking with Russell Robinson, the chief executive officer of JNF. The two were talking about the Israel Baseball League, launched several years with great fanfare but little success.

“He said JNF felt there still was a strong interest” in developing baseball in Israel, said Fried. “It was an agenda they wanted to pursue.”

Fried believes strongly in the power of baseball.

“It becomes part of one’s own fabric and personality,” he said. “Your experiences are better when you connect to it.”

The plan, he said, is to bring a group of baseball lovers to Israel and “to start with the youth, running clinics in addition to participating in games against Israeli teams.” The Israel Association of Baseball, he said, has four teams in four cities.

Mission participants will have an opportunity “to see Israel through JNF eyes” and use field facilities to connect with Israelis through baseball, said Fried. In addition, “We’d like to try to sow the seeds for a more established youth program, maybe starting a pilot project like a baseball academy.”

Because Israel has many expatriate Americans and Canadians who already love baseball,
the sport “could become part of the fabric of Israel sports,” he said, suggesting that the IBL didn’t work because “Israelis don’t understand the slow pace of baseball. They have to learn the game.”

He called it shortsighted to assume that “if you build it, they will come,” unless the groundwork has been properly laid and baseball is partnered with a youth program.

While JNF’s “e-mail blast” has generated tremendous interest, he said, the trip, originally slated for May 8-15, will need to be rescheduled, since many respondents have said they need more time to prepare. In addition, to keep costs affordable for the different constituencies who might attend, JNF has agreed to make side trips optional to participants who are coming mainly to play baseball.

“We’re hoping this will become an annual thing,” said Fried. “People are coming out of the woodwork. Three people want to send their sons or nephews who are playing college baseball, youth who need a different kind of Jewish connection. Another e-mail was from a kid looking for a mitzvah project and wanting to send baseball equipment to Israeli kids.”

He also received a note from a man on Kibbutz Lotan in southern Israel who would like to introduce baseball to the kibbutz and needs equipment — and another from a graduate student at the Jewish Theological Seminary who wants to play baseball and explore how Israeli society accepts the sport.

For more information about the upcoming mission, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Bedouin demolitions raising tensions in Israeli land dispute

Marcy OsterWorld
Published: 13 August 2010
A Bedouin boy helps to rebuild the family tent Aug. 4 in the unofficial village of Al-Arakib in the Negev after it was demolished by Israeli authorities. Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90/JTA

JERUSALEM – A standoff between the Israeli government and an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev Desert is raising tensions over land rights in southern Israel.

Village residents are rebuilding their homes for the third time in as many weeks after their demolition Tuesday by Israeli authorities.

In the first demolition order carried out July 27, some 1,300 police escorted Israel Lands Administration officials into the unofficial village of Al-Arakib before dawn, removing the area’s 300 residents before razing 45 structures, including homes and chicken coops. Residents rebuilt their homes and the police returned — twice.

The government says the Bedouin are occupying the land illegally; the Bedouin refused the government’s offer to let them stay as renters.

Among the Bedouin of the Negev, the demolitions are stirring anger.

“These demolitions will lead to an intifada in the Negev,” Bedouin and Israeli Arab Knesset member Talab El-Sana told reporters as he barricaded himself in one of the structures that ultimately was demolished.

The demolitions are the result of a dispute between the Bedouin and the Israeli government over rights to specific lands in the Negev comprising about 8,500 acres and 30,000 Bedouin. The Bedouin say the area has been in their families for generations, even if it has never been formally registered with the government. The Israeli government says the Bedouin are new to the land.

Balancing Bedouin claims to the land and their nomadic lifestyle against the needs of the modern Israeli state has never been easy in the Negev, where the Bedouin compete for space with Israeli military training zones, towns, and agricultural zones. For decades, Israel has tried to get the Bedouin to settle in organized towns the state established for them.

Approximately 155,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, 60 percent in the seven permanent towns the government created between 1979 and 1982, according to the Israel Lands Administration. The remainder live in homes and shanties scattered about the Negev. It is these Bedouin who frequently run up against government enforcers.

Israel has plans to build 13 new villages in consultation with Bedouin representatives to house these Bedouin, according to the ILA.

Approximately 150 to 200 Bedouin structures of the 40,000 considered illegal by the Israeli government are torn down each year.

The flare-up at Al-Arakib is the latest in a series of similar incidents since 1998, when the ILA says the Bedouin began to enter the area under dispute. The village has been the subject of cases in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Bedouins’ residence at Al-Arakib was illegal.

The ILA offered the Bedouin a deal under which they would rent the land at the nominal fee of about $2 an acre, which they refused to pay. The ILA received a court order in 2003 to evacuate and demolish the homes in the village.

Many of the residents of Al-Arakib also have permanent homes in one of the Bedouin towns, Rahat, where their children are registered in schools, according to Ortal Sabar, an ILA spokeswoman.

Yeela Raanan, spokeswoman for the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, told Human Rights Watch that only a few dozen Al-Arakib residents have other homes and that “there are at least 250 people now who don’t have another option.”

Some Al-Arakib residents reportedly also have individual land claims pending in Beersheba District Court.

Ariel Dloomy, projects director for the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace Development, says he believes that in the wake of Al-Arakib there will be more demolitions of Bedouin settlements. He said the wholesale demolition of Al-Arakib was a trial balloon to see how the Israeli people would react.

“There is a deep lack of knowledge about the Bedouins and their historic presence on the land on the side of the Jewish population in Israel,” Dloomy said. “Most of the Jewish Israelis view this conflict as a zero-sum game, while we think there is a place for everybody — Jews and Arabs — in the Negev.”

In an editorial criticizing the government for demolishing the homes at Al-Arakib, Israel’s daily Haaretz called the Bedouin “the children of the Negev.”

“Destroying their homes and pushing them into the crowded and poor Bedouin cities creates a much more severe political and social problem than the danger of the Bedouin living on state lands,” the editorial said.

During the demolitions at Al-Arakib, some critics suggested that the state wanted to clear the area for the Jewish National Fund to plant a forest at the site. JNF denied the claim, issuing a statement last week saying it “was not involved in this operation and has no link to the subject of evacuating Bedouin soldiers whatsoever.”

The organization plants forests throughout the country under a master plan of the Israeli government, a JNF spokeswoman told JTA.

JNF’s Blueprint Negev, a plan to bring about 250,000 Israelis to live in the Negev by 2013, also is raising funds to benefit the local Bedouin population. Among the sites planned is the Abu Basma Regional Council Complex/Medical Center, to be built on land donated by JNF, as well as parks and water supply and treatment projects.

After the demolitions of recent weeks, Bedouin leaders warned that the government is doing serious harm to its relations with the community.

“The attempt to uproot Bedouin citizens from their settlements constitutes a serious insult to all Bedouin,” said the Committee of Al-Arakib. “All attempts to uproot the residents of the village will fail in the end.”



Pete Seeger will participate in Israeli-organized peace rally

Folk singer Pete Seeger, center, records a song at his home in Beacon, N.Y., in May, for an Israeli-organized peace rally. He is accompanied by Walker Rumpf on guitar and Arava Institute for Environmental Studies alumni Zack Korenstein and Sarah Schuldenfrei. Michael Hardgrove

No one tells Pete Seeger what to do.

At 91, the iconic folk singer has penned hundreds of protest songs, railing against everything from the Vietnam War to global warming. He was blacklisted in the 1950s, he slept under the stars with striking farmers, and he still reads the Communist “People’s World” — along with The New York Times, of course.

Yet despite his opposition to Israeli policies in the west bank and Gaza, Seeger refuses to heed calls to boycott an upcoming peace event organized by an Israeli institution.

In recent weeks, Seeger has rejected calls by individuals and organizations demanding that he cancel his participation in “With Earth and Each Other: A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East,” an online event promoting peace through cross-border cooperation and scheduled for a Nov. 14 global broadcast at

“My religion is that the world will not survive without dialogue,” Seeger told JTA in an interview from his home in Beacon, N.Y. “I would say to the Israelis and the Palestinians, if you think it’s terrible now, just think ahead 50 years to when the world blows itself up. It will get worse unless you learn how to turn the world around peacefully.”

Seeger was invited to perform for the online peace rally by event organizers Friends of the Arava Institute, the North American fund-raising arm of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. The institute works with Arab and Jewish leaders to solve the region’s environmental challenges cooperatively.

Thirty other organizations have signed on to the event, ranging from Peace Child Israel to the Jewish National Fund.

Actor Mandy Patinkin will emcee an event that will feature group viewings organized around the world from San Francisco to Bonn, Germany.

Activists from the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement have been pushing Seeger to cancel, posting open letters to him on their websites.

Seeger says he’s going forward and already has recorded two songs: “Od Yavo Shalom” (Hebrew for “Peace Will Yet Come”) and a Lebanese song in Arabic performed with alumni of the Arava Institute. And he may break into song spontaneously during the live broadcast, too.

That doesn’t mean that he supports Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, Seeger says; quite the contrary.

He is a longtime donor to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an organization that became so critical of Israel that it was dropped by the New Israel Fund years ago, and readily decries what he calls “monstrous” Israeli military actions against Palestinian civilians.

Seeger made his first trip to Israel in 1964 with his wife and children, and spent time on several kibbutzim, where he recalls being “impressed by the energy.”

He visited again right before the June 1967 Six Day War, performing the hit song “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” before a crowd of tens of thousands in Tel Aviv. “Tzena,” which he recorded in 1950 with The Weavers, remains the only Hebrew-language song to make it to the top of the U.S. music charts.

Right before that trip, Seeger stopped off in Lebanon.

“I was told not to mention I was going to Israel the next week or I might not make it,” he said. “I hadn’t realized how serious the situation was.”

Things “have gone from bad to worse” in the Middle East, says Seeger, who notes that he rarely travels anymore except for occasional trips to New York City.

Holding up the example of the Montgomery bus boycott as the key to ending racial segregation in the American South, Seeger says he does not oppose nonviolent efforts, including an economic boycott, to end the Israeli occupation of the west bank and Gaza. But standing in the way of promoting dialogue makes no sense, he said.

“I understand why someone would want to boycott a place financially, but I don’t understand why you would boycott dialogue,” Seeger said. “The world will not be here in 50 years unless we learn how to communicate with each other nonviolently.”

The online peace rally, which begins at 1p.m. EST on Nov. 14, presents itself as nonpolitical.

“The purpose is not to take a side or suggest what a peace process should look like, but to raise the voices of those on all sides who yearn for peace and show that there is another side of the conflict in which people are striving to work together for the betterment of all,” rally co-chair Mohammed Atwa said in a news release.

“It will be a long struggle, taking generations,” Seeger said of Israeli-Arab peace. “But if we don’t try, we abandon the world to those who believe in violence.”



Jewish charities do poorly in annual list

As the recession ends, will mega-donors like Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson re-up their Jewish giving? Courtesy Deborah Camiel

While economists say the recession ended more than a year ago, you wouldn’t know it to look at Jewish nonprofits.

In an annual list released earlier this month by The Chronicle of Philanthropy of the top 400 nonprofits in the United States, fund raising at the country’s largest Jewish charities had declined by an average of 18.5 percent in 2009 — nearly twice as much as the list as a whole, which showed a fund-raising decline of 10 percent.

Twenty-two Jewish organizations made the Philanthropy 400, which ranks the country’s 400 largest nonprofits by the size of their fund-raising totals.

Only two Jewish charities ranked among the top 100 earners in 2009, with the Jewish Federations of North America and its overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, ranking 45 and 78, respectively.

Some of the country’s largest Jewish charities took significant hits. Hadassah was down 7.9 percent to $78 million; the JDC fell 8.5 percent to $224 million; Yeshiva University dropped nearly 40 percent to $111 million; and Brandeis University was down 12.6 percent to $78 million. On the other hand, the Birthright Israel Foundation rose 46.8 percent to just over $71 million.

It seems that 2009 was an especially hard year for the Jewish federation system.

The Chronicle’s accounting of the 147-federation system is always a bit tricky, as some of the largest federations are counted by themselves and not with the rest of the system.

According to the Chronicle’s survey, the JFNA brought in $320,252,000 in 2009, a 19.6 percent drop from the previous year (when it was known as the UJC, for United Jewish Communities).

All but one of the top federations on the list, which were counted separately, showed significant declines. The UJA-Federation of New York was down 10 percent to $159.7 million, JUF-Jewish Federation of Chicago was down 15 percent to $133.5 million, and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston was down 21 percent to about $85 million.

Only the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore saw an increase, gaining 10 percent to reach $62 million.

But the JFNA says the numbers for the federations are not as bad as the report may seem. Looking at the federation system’s campaign as a whole, and including the larger federations, the 2009 annual campaign stood at $938 million, a 10 percent drop from 2008’s $1.04 billion campaign and more in line with the national averages for declines.

In total, according to the JFNA, the federations took in $2 billion in 2009 when counting all of their assets, including endowments and foundations such as the Jewish Communal Fund of New York. This year, the federations are ahead of the 2009 pace, as they have taken in $747 million in 2010, a 3.4 percent increase over the same period of last year.

“There is a cautious optimism,” a JFNA spokesman said. “I don’t think anyone thinks we are out of the woods or that everything is great. But there is a feeling that people have really responded and stepped up to the plate, especially given that nonprofits and charities continue to be down. Our surveys have shown that there is a trust in the federation movement.”

On the positive side, two Jewish organizations were new to this year’s list of the top 400: American Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and the Jewish National Fund. On the other side, two Jewish organizations dropped off the list: the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego and the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, N.J., both of which made the top 400 for 2008 thanks to significant one-time gifts.

This marks the 20th year that the Chronicle has conducted the survey. It provided an opportunity to see how top charities have evolved since 1991 and how donor interests may have changed.

In general, the largest charities have stayed relatively stable. Some 228 charities made the list in both 1991 and 2010, and they increased their mean fund-raising by 228 percent. When adjusted for inflation, they raised 81 percent more in real dollars last year than they did two decades ago. And the largest of the large have fared well, according to the Chronicle: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Catholic Charities USA, the Salvation Army, and the Y (formerly YMCA) stayed in the list’s top 20, with each group at least tripling the amount raised over the two decades.

Still, the landscape has changed dramatically. Nearly half the list is new since 1991. Jewish charities have declined. In 1991, two Jewish organizations were in the top 10, but this year the top Jewish charity, the Jewish federation system, only made it as high as No. 45.

Paul Kane, who heads the JFNA’s development department and is the senior adviser to the CEO of JFNA, said federations expect better outcomes next year. So far, the JFNA has had three major campaign events, all of which are up on average 18 percent over last year.

“We’re going to do better in 2010 than in 2009,” Kane said, adding that 2011 should be another step toward recovery. “I think people are coming back financially and showing great commitment that could reach levels pre-2009 and higher.”



Sderot, besieged by bombing, JNF provides cutting-edge protection

The mayor of Sderot, David Bouskila, and the award-winning journalist Linda Scherzer were guest speakers at a Jewish National Fund event held last week at the Englewood home of Doryne and Milton Davis. More than 40 people gathered there to learn about the current “matzav” (the situation) in the border town, a target of 8,600 Hamas rockets since 2001 — with 28 deaths reported by 2009, hundreds injured, millions in property damage, and thousands of people, including 3,000 children, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sderot has a population of approximately 22,000. At the end of 2008, the mayor reported, 10 to 15 percent of the population had fled — the average number of missiles that landed in the city daily was nine. Today, said Bouskila, the town enjoys a period of relative calm; only one or two missiles land every other day, and people have begun to move back to the city.

JNF’s Bob Levine, left, stands with Sderot Mayor David Bouskila during a JNF gathering last week. Jeanette Friedman

Teaneck resident Bob Levine, JNF’s vice president of education, noted that a 21,000 square-foot, bomb-proof facility is protecting hundreds of children and senior citizens daily. It was built as a giant recreation center to provide children with a state-of-the-art safe play space/social center so that they wouldn’t have to worry about getting to a conventional bomb shelter within 15 seconds — the time between the sirens going off and the rockets landing.

Bouskila said that 75 percent of the children suffer from PSTD. “They may never be like other children,” he continued. “They lost their childhood, they worry about the situation and their parents and they don’t know what to do….

“Our children study in a democratic society with values of human rights … but the terrorists use human shields so civilians die. Yet that is not the point. It is the media. We are not popular in the international media. It is impossible to be strong and popular at the same time — we have to be underdogs. But if we become weak, we will be destroyed.”

Linda Scherzer, who made a presentation before the mayor spoke, had been on the Middle East beat for eight years and connected to Sderot as part of the Bergen County Jewish community in 2008, when a group of local women arranged to bring 40 traumatized kids from Sderot to summer camp in the United States.

Scherzer, a former Mideast correspondent for CNN, described today’s relative calm as a “hudna,” defining that Arabic word, often translated as “ceasefire,” as a time to rearm and prepare for more war. She said she’d learned from the Palestinians she covered in the west bank and Gaza that they had generational patience, that they felt that their turn would come eventually. As for Iran, she said, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is two years closer to his nuclear bomb, while he arms terrorists on Israel’s borders. “The extremists will tell you to your face they have no interest in peace,” she said. “They are willing to wait. They understand that if their grandchildren won’t see it, then their great-great-great-grandchildren will replace the [Jewish] state with a fundamentalist religion. Their numbers have grown and their ideology is consistent. What you see is what you get.”

What is far more troubling, she said, is the callous indifference of the international community and how everyone heaps calumny upon Israel. She wondered aloud if the media are to blame for this attitude and why it was not aimed at Sudan, Libya, Iran, and other regimes that ignore human rights.

But she feels the media are generally honest, with a fair degree of integrity. “It takes journalists a while to get up to speed,” she said, “but the Palestinians have convinced the world that they are the real victims. They know they are no match for Israel’s army, so they confront [it] on the airwaves [and] in a public relations war where they embed their fighters in civilian populations. Then they aim at Israeli civilians, knowing eventually the army will respond, and the images that result from that are compelling; they are filled with tremendous pain, and they make the pain on the Israeli side look like nothing.”

Scherzer told of a doctor, a Holocaust survivor, who was in her clinic in Ashkelon during an attack and was disfigured. At a U.N. panel discussion in Geneva, one of the panelists said to the doctor, “I feel sorry for you, but it in no way does it make up for the horror Israel inflicts on Gaza.”

The mayor thanked the JNF and American Jewish community for what they have done for the children of Sderot and added, “It’s not just about the children. JNF also built us a reservoir that provides water to all the farms around Sderot and gives life to the area. People who left are coming back and starting to buy houses and apartments. No one should believe that if we leave Sderot, there will be peace. We left Gaza, and nothing changed. We will not leave, because next it will be Ashkelon. We are in Israel proper, not in a settlement. Bibi came to visit, and played with the children. We are proud, because I bring world leaders to the recreation center and show them how the American people built it for our children. When Obama came to Sderot he said that if his daughters were in town, he wouldn’t let them sleep there.” Quoting the late Prime Minister Golda Meir, he said, “We will have peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

To raise funds for the shelter and other projects in Sderot, JNF is selling steel tulips for $1,000 a piece. Conceived and designed by soldier/artist Eldor Levy of the Givati Brigade, they are made from Kassam rockets that landed in Sderot. Bouskila said, “When a deadly weapon is transformed into a beautiful flower, it makes a powerful statement for peace. You touch the metal that was meant to kill. Now we can sell it to give life. This is our wish — to teach people to love.”


don’t blame israel for fire; send help

Published: 17 December 2010

Local artist helps create new facet of Artists4Israel

Lectures designed to inspire pro-Israel artworks

Sheryl Intrator Urman’s desire to cultivate love for Israel took root in New Jersey’s artistic community.

In May, Intrator Urman, of Englewood, approached Artists4Israel, a non-profit organization dedicated to using art to promote support for Israel, to develop a new facet of its programming: a lecture series to stimulate artists to create work that highlights Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

“I wanted to create a series that would help artists,” says Intrator Urman. “I wanted to make a series that would help Israel.”

To realize this dual vision, she worked with Artists4Israel staff to develop the new program, called the “Response Art Series.” Featuring five debate and discussion events related to Israel, the program will include exhibitions for participating artists, culminating in a juried show of selected pieces.

The first lecture, which took place Monday at the 92nd Street Y, featured Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and radio broadcaster John Batchelor discussing “Challenges and Opportunities for American and World Jewry.” The next lecture takes place Sunday at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. The subject is “The Palestinian Right to Israel” with Alex Grobman, a prominent Holocaust historian from Englewood.

Other organizations, including Jewish National Fund, The David Project, and, are coordinating with Artists4Israel. (See

Intrator Urman’s vision included promoting these existing events to artists via Artists4Israel and arranging for the exhibitions.

“Sheryl took this idea and found a way to make it democratic and accessible to any wannabe Israel advocate,” said Craig Dershowitz, president and co-founder of Artists4Israel.

The idea is for artists to listen to the lectures, go home, and create art inspired by them. When the work is exhibited, not just the artists but also their families, friends, and other viewers will be exposed to pro-Israel views via art.

“When you have a reception … [with] friends of the artists and media, all of these viewers will now get a flavor for what the lecture was about because the artists will also have to make an artist’s statement about how the work relates to the lecture,” said Intrator Urman.

For her vision, Intrator Urman credits her local community of artists, specifically the groups Salute to Women in the Arts, a non-profit affiliated with the Art Center of North New Jersey, and the Jewish Bet Midrash in Teaneck.

She took inspiration for the project from the Jewish Bet Midrash. The “Response Art Series” is modeled on a project designed by that group, in which a rabbi and artist come to the synagogue and discuss a theme like “boundaries” or “beginnings” — and encourage group members to create art inspired by the talk. Then the group has a show at Temple Beth Sholom in Teaneck, where it meets.

Salute to Women in the Arts gives local artists the chance to exhibit their work, which the Response Art Series will do as well.

“I wanted to show my art but I didn’t know where to start, and these local groups gave me the opportunity to exhibit,” said Intrator Urman. “That’s what I’m trying to do for others. If they come to this Response Art Series they will have a place to show their art, even if it’s for the first time.”

She hopes the prospect of a juried show, with works selected for exhibit by a panel including gallery owners and academics, will also appeal to established artists.

Equally important to her is encouraging artists to make pieces to support Israel — and to raise awareness about Israel’s right to exist, Intrator Urman says. Artists4Israel seeks to reach both Jews and non-Jews with this pro-Israel message.

“Artists4Israel tries to reach out to artists no matter what faith they are,” she says. “We want people to understand Israel has the right to exist, just like France does [for example]. Israel is the only country that regularly feels the need to justify its right to exist, and we want to change that.”

Sometimes Jewish artists can be those in greatest need of hearing Israeli points of view.

“We have lots of Jewish artists who don’t know where they fall also,” Intrator Urman said. “We are doing this for the person who doesn’t know what they want to believe. There are many Jewish artists who don’t want to make art to support Israel. Artists are usually liberal-minded; not everyone wants to take a stand for Israel.”

The series of five lectures covers topics ranging from boycotts to water rights to perceptions of Israel in the media.

The series expands on an already existing element of Artists4Israel’s programming, the Dershowitz Center for pro-Israel Art. That program provides studio space to artists who are interested in learning about Israeli perspectives.

“We don’t dictate to the artist, and that’s what separates us from anti-Israel [sponsors of] art in the Arab world,” Dershowitz said.

Yona Verwer, a Manhattan painter who attended Monday’s talk, found unique inspiration in Batchelor’s discussion of an incident involving Saudi officials’ claims that appearances of exotic animals on Saudi Arabian soil were an Israeli plot.

“When they said sharks, pelicans, and griffin vultures were part of an Israeli plot,” she visualized an idea for a painting, she said, adding, “even nature is being used for anti-Israel propaganda.”

Artists and others interested in participating may call (201) 503-9796 for more information.


JNF gathering in Cresskill stresses the positive

At Saturday’s JNF fundraiser in Cresskill are, from left, JNF CEO Russell Robinson, hosts Seffie and Jill Janowski, Ambassador Ido Aharoni, JNF emissary Talia Tzour, and JNF Vice President Bob Levine. Courtesy JNF

It’s all about rebranding Israel,” Ambassador Ido Aharoni, consul general of Israel in New York, told a gathering at Jill and Seffie Janowski’s home in Cresskill on Saturday night. The event, attended by some 60 guests, was a fundraiser to help restore the thousands of acres of the Carmel forests devastated by fire. Art for a silent auction was donated by artists from Ein Hod, a village damaged in the flames. The event was also a remembrance of those who fell defending the State and a celebration of its independence.

As she introduced the speakers for the evening, Talia Tzour, the Jewish National Fund emissary in Bergen County, said the week sandwiched between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut traces the history of Israel’s existence and survival. “This is the week of tears of sorrow for what we lost and tears of joy for what we have achieved.”

Among the guests were national JNF leaders CEO Russell Robinson and Vice President Bob Levine, a Teaneck resident, as well as Michael P. Feinman, zone director for the greater New York region. Robinson spoke of the famous “blue box” that sat in homes from Lublin to Prague, from New Jersey to Los Angeles, a message that was effective without the Internet, faxes, phones, or maps. JNF had promised to buy the land, dunam by dunam, and it did. To make that happen, Robinson said, people took money from their food budgets to invest in a 2,000-year-old dream, and that dream has come true.

Aharoni, a branding expert, has a long record of media-savvy service to the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, including a stint in New York City. Citing study after study, he said that 70 percent of Americans are suffering from Middle East conflict fatigue and view Tel Aviv as a concrete bunker. “Study participants could not define the interior design; there were no colors. There was not one description of an Israeli woman, only angry men who don’t want to let you in … an image that was strict and stern and not fun. Most cannot tell the difference between perpetrator and victim. They don’t care who is right or who is wrong, and that’s because for 45 years, all everyone ever talks about is the conflict…. No one talks about what Israel has to offer. It’s about brand positioning. If you do not define your value and identity to the world, your competition will define it for you…. The bottom line is that Israel must be attractive. If Israel will not communicate its offerings and assets worldwide, she will suffer the consequences.”

He cited the branding of Brazil. “The basic assumption about Brazil is [the] samba and Carnivale. But that's not the reality. That ‘reality’ gap is worth billions of dollars to Brazil. The ‘reality’ gap concerning Israel is a liability. We need to build relationships with relevant audiences. My life’s mission is to tell those audiences what Israel has to offer.”

His strongest partner in this mission, he said, is the JNF.

Robinson said, “It’s about achievement, advancement, of our creative survival, about Israelis making differences in the world.” He cited what was happening in Beersheva, the central city in the Negev, whose population has grown from 95,000 to 210,000 in a few years, and he also listed water and beautification projects around the country.

“Rejoice in this miracle called Israel,” he said. “Celebrate her people, who are the innovators, the creators — often the first to help in times of global crisis. Stand up and be proud. Sixty three years later we have come far, but I believe the best is yet to come.”

Aharoni noted that Israelis are strong in arts and culture, winning several international awards for their contributions in cinema, dance, and the arts. Also, he said, Israel offers great food and award-winning wines, high fashion, innovative product design, interesting architecture, world class resorts, and extreme sports. And, Aharoni continued, more than 120 different ethnic groups living in harmony in Israel, and it is one of only two gay-friendly places in the entire region (Beirut is the other).

International aid programs and rescue operations, he said, like those carried out in the refugee camps during the war in the Balkans, assistance after the Japanese tsunami and the earthquakes in Haiti, are vitally important for Israel’s image. Such programs, he said, were inspired by Golda Meir, who, raised in America, was taught about tikkun olam. Tikkun, said Aharoni, was not previously on Israel’s agenda. And Israel is a leader in hi-tech and science. Right now, he added, Israel’s pioneering role in environmental concerns and energy, in water conservation, solar energy and sustainable agriculture — areas in which JNF is deeply involved — tops the list of stories that should be told.

Hostess Jill Janowski showed Robinson a JNF certificate her father had gotten for his bar mitzvah in 1949. Janowski also suggested that the JNF involve children by asking them to design tree certificates — a suggestion that Robinson was quick to accept. Later Robinson mentioned her father’s certificate as he presented her with a brand-new certificate for 18 trees in the Carmel, thereby linking the generations, he said, and a good portent for the future.

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