Archive for : Israel

Repair Interview: Talia Niederman on Year Course and Women’s Rights in Israel

Young Judea’s Year Course program brings talented and committed high school graduates to Israel for a year of learning, volunteering and discovery. Talia Niederman, an 18-year old from New Jersey and a lifelong participant in Young Judea, recently got back from her gap year in Israel. Needless to say, she had a life-changing experience.

Although she’s super busy this summer working as a counselor for Young Judea’s Camp Tel Yehuda, Niederman took some time to tell Repair the World about her background with service, why she felt compelled to join Year Course, and how she and her fellow YC’ers created a program to help women in need.

What is your background with service and volunteering – is it something you’ve always been passionate about?
Yes, I’ve always thought it was important to incorporate some form of social action into my life. In high school I was very involved with Young Judaea and did a lot of volunteering and service through the movement.

How did you hear about Year Course and what inspired you to participate?
Well I’ve been involved with Young Judaea since I was 10. I think it was around 9th grade that I told my parents I was going on Year Course. They weren’t originally too crazy about the idea. Throughout my time in Young Judea I was always hearing about all the amazing things YCers were doing. Back in the States we would try and parallel them in whatever ways we could. I remember the first event I ever planned was making sock dolls for the Darfuri refugees (a group the Year Course two ahead of me worked with heavily). Hearing all the things I did about my predecessor, I would be crazy not to have gone on Year Course.

What types of programs did you work on while you were in Israel?
I volunteered in a four places over the course of the year. In our Jerusalem section I worked at an after school program for Ethiopian Jews. In Bat Yam I worked at a battered women’s shelter and the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center, and in Arad I volunteered at a foster home. Each of these was roughly three months.

What experience had the most personal impact for you?
The most impactful thing for me was Garin Kol L’Nashim. Six (which eventually turned to seven) of us created this Garin to combat various women’s issues in Israel. It was from the Garin that we got the inspiration to work at the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center and the battered women’s shelter. We also collected 400 toiletry items for a shelter for sex trafficked women, created two education kits for people in America, made t-shirts from which we donated the profit to the battered women’s shelter, and continuously kept a blog.

The Garin not only helped us to help the broader community, but it gave us a forum to discuss various women’s issues with each other. By the end of the year it was me and three others. The four of us really built a wonderful and proactive community together, for which I am extremely proud and grateful.

Find out more about Young Judea’s Year Course program and how you can get involved, here.

World Food Prize Goes to Israeli Water and Farming Innovator

Ed’s note: Somehow we missed last week’s inspiring article on The Jew & The Carrot blog about an 81-year old Israeli-American innovator who just won the World Food Prize for pioneering drip-irrigation and other water-saving farming techniques. But now that the story is on our radar screen, we want to share it with you! Here’s an excerpt:

“If there is such a thing as rock star status in the world of soil physics, then Daniel Hillel has attained it,” Eric Herschthal wrote in a 2010 article titled “The Man Who Made The Deserts Bloom” in The Jewish Week.

Now, two years later, Hillel, an 81-year-old American-born Israeli scientist has won this year’s World Food Prize for his water-saving agricultural methods used first in Israel, and then around the world. These methods, known as micro-irrigation and drip-irrigation have increased crop production on arid lands in 30 countries.

It was a fortuitous encounter with Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, that set Hillel on his remarkable path. According to Herschthal’s article, Ben-Gurion met Hillel when he and his wife Paula came to visit Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negevwith the mission of settling the desert that Hillel had helped establish in 1952.

Ben-Gurion, by then in his 60’s, became a member of the kibbutz and pitched in with the work. Hillel, then in his 20’s was assigned to supervise Ben-Gurion. “It’s funny but true — I was Ben-Gurion’s boss,” the scientist said. The prime minister, impressed with Hillel’s revolutionary irrigation methods, sent him on his first trip — to Burma in 1956 — to teach this technology to developing countries. Many such trips to countries all over the globe ensued.

Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, said he was most impressed by the ability Hillel has to bring different peoples and countries together and to promote peace through his work. He has participated in missions to teach and promote water-use efficiency across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America under the auspices of organizations such as the World Bank, UN Food and Agriculture Organization and U.S. Agency for International Development.

“His nomination for the World Food Prize included seconding letters from Arab scientists and experts living and working in Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. He is a remarkable example of what one person can achieve by taking a leap and crossing cultural borders for the sake of the greater good,” wrote Quinn.

Read the rest of Hillel’s story on The Jew & The Carrot blog.

Just in Time for Clean Air Month: Israel’s Electric Cars

What type of car do you drive, or does your family drive? Imagine if instead of stopping every few hundred miles to fill up with petroleum-based gasoline, you could roll into an eco-friendly battery swapping station and in two minutes get a freshly charged electric battery and be on your way?

If that sounds cool, then file this under awesome: an eco-entrepreneur named Shai Agassi, just unveiled the world’s first nationwide electric car network in Israel. The notion of a modern-day electric car has been around for a long time. But until now it’s been held back by a lot of logistical problems, including having no way to “fill up” with a charged battery. Now, Agassi’s company, Better Place (as in “make the world a…”) aims to wean car drivers off of oil by opening dozens of car battery swapping stations across the country and make them as efficient and easy as filling up a car with gasoline.

The company calls their ingenious system, “Drive, Switch, Go,” and it has the potential to be BIG. By 2017, Agassi expects 50 per cent of all new car sales in Israel to be electric. Of course, Israel is a small country (you’ve heard it before – it’s about the size of New Jersey), which makes it an ideal place to pilot a national network of electric cars. But if Better Place’s system works in Israel, there could eventually be electric car networks in every major city around the world. Imagine it: a future filled with emission-free cars. Pretty amazing, right?

With May being officially named “Clean Air Month,” Better Place’s unveiling couldn’t have happened at a better time. Find out more about Agassi’s world-changing idea by watching the videos below. First up: a quick rundown of how Better Place’s “Drive, Switch, Go” system works. Then a longer video of Agassi’s TED talk:

How are you celebrating Clean Air Month? Let us know below for by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Reflecting on the Japan Tsunami, One Year Later

This Sunday, March 11, marks the one year anniversary of the magnitude 9 earthquake, and the resulting tsunamis and nuclear meltdown that devastated large swaths of coastal Japan. In just a few chaotic hours, tens of thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. (Watch this video which shows what the damage looks like a year later.)

Japan’s story touched the hearts of people all over the world, and many donated money or time to help out. The Jewish community alone raised millions of dollars of support, and sent trained search and rescue teams to Japan. Repair the World featured a photo slideshow showing rabbinical student Andrew Scheer’s journey in Japan with a delegation of volunteers. And thanks to a DoSomething.org initiative, 2 million paper cranes and well-wishes were sent to Japan, along with more than $500,000 in support. Check it out below:
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Monday Link Round up

Happy Monday and happy day-after-the-Oscars! Hopefully you had fun cheering on your favorite stars, laughing (or not) at Billy Crystal’s jokes, and sizing up the fashion on the red carpet. To get you in the spirit for the rest of the week, here is Repair the World’s weekly round up of service-related posts from around the web.

  • The Huffington Post reported on which Oscar nominees were the most charitable. (For Repair the World’s coverage on Hollywood volunteering and philanthropy, click here.)
  • JTA published a story on the first anniversary of the devastating tsunamis in Japan about the positive impact Israeli disaster responders had in helping post-tsunami trauma victims.
  • GOOD helps introduce Bully, an important new documentary about the epidemic of bullying in American schools.
  • GOOD also shared several books that cover the topic of bullying, and different students’ responses to it.
  • Sustainablog shared a story about an urban garden located at a bus stop in London, that is helping to build community. (Includes a great video featuring charming British accents!)

This Tu Bishvat, Wish the Trees a Happy New Year with Service

New Year’s Eve may have recently passed, but on the Jewish calendar it is New Year’s all over again! Tomorrow we celebrate Tu Bishvat – the 15th of the Jewish month of Shivat which, according the Talmud, is the ‘Rosh Hashana L’Ilanot’ or the ‘New Year’ for Trees.’ The holiday marks the start of the fruit bearing cycle for trees in the land of Israel, celebrating the transition from winter to spring, and the time period when the sap inside trees is beginning to flow (even though, on the outside, the trees still look dormant in their winter sleep-fest.)

The arrival of Tu Bishvat reminds us of our inherent connection to the natural world. In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were told in the Garden of Eden to be stewards of nature, and to care for the natural world. Nature, we learn from their story, is about more than pretty vistas and resources – it is a Divine creation and valuable all by itself. There is a midrash (story) that says an angel hovers over every blade of grass telling it to grow.

This value is also expressed through the mitzvah (commandment) of ‘Bal Taschit,’ which prohibits against purposeless destruction or wastefulness of nature. According to the Torah, during times of war, the ancient Israelite army was forbidden to cut down the fruit trees around an enemy city to make arms, because it would is considered a form of unnecessary wasting. ‘Bal Taschit’ does not just apply to fruit trees during times of war, but at all times and places, to trees, water, air, and the rest of the natural world.

This year, celebrate Tu Bishvat by eating fruits and nuts – and also through tree centered and environmental service! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Attend a Tu Bishvat Seder or Party like this one that the New York Jewish environemntal organization, Hazon, is throwing – or this one, being hosted by Repair the World grantee-partner Urban Adamah in Berkeley, California.

Plant a tree! What better way to celebrate the holiday of the trees? Plant one in Israel through JNF, or plant one in your own backyard!

Grow something. Get involved with local Jewish farms like Repair the World grantee-partner, Jewish Farm School, Adamah or Kayam Farm.

Think globally, eat locally. Join a community supported agriculture (CSA) program through Hazon, find local farmers markets via Local Harvest, or donate the excess produce you grow in your backyard to Ample Harvest.

Let us know how you’re celebrating the New Year for the Trees by tweeting @repairtheworld!

Repair Interview: Rebecca Weintraub’s Alternative Break with Hillel and Yahel

The end of January has arrived, which means two things: 1. Super Bowl Sunday (yay!) and 2. the end of winter break (not so yay). Students across the country are buckling down and getting back in the groove of papers, quizzes and homework. Meanwhile, daydreams of winter breaks just-past still dance in their heads. Especially for students like University of Maryland senior, Rebecca Weintraub.

Weintraub, along with 15 other students, joined Maryland Hillel and Repair the World for a life-changing alternative break trip in Israel. The students volunteered with Repair the World grantee-partner Yahel (learn more about Yahel here), for a 10-day whirlwind of learning and serving with Israel’s Ethiopian community. Weintraub took a minute from her busy back-to-school schedule to tell Repair the World about planting gardens with Ethiopian-Israelis, trying injera and other new foods, and how the trip influenced her relationship with Israel.

What inspired you to go on the alternative break trip?
There were several different alternative break trips being offered through Hillel – like one to San Diego that focused on immigration, and another to Ghana with American Jewish World Service. But the one that caught my eye was one in Israel with Yahel. It seemed different than the typical Israel trip where you visit Masada and the Kotel – it delved into social justice issues and seemed like it could help both deepen and challenge my relationship with Israel.
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