Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Two Places at Once by Yoav Cohen, Westchester Shaliach

Sunday, August 3, 2014  This last Friday I was on a bus with a group of American and Israeli teens on our way to New York. Along with our dedicated staff, we were about to complete Havaya 2014, an American- Israeli summer partnership program that travels around Israel and the USA to develop Jewish Peoplehood, leadership and tikkun olam (repairing the world). This year we had it all; sirens, Israel’s beautiful landscape and people, rockets, packing gifts for soldiers, Six Flags Great Adventures, the US Capitol, and running a summer camp for underprivileged kids in Savannah, Georgia. It was the experience of a lifetime.
But on Friday I did not want to be on the bus. Five thousand miles away I received my orders for an emergency military call up to reserve duty (tzav 8), but I was, and still am, not there. I should be there, dafka where everyone does not want to be. My heart was, and still is, there with my guys, who were gearing up and heading out to stop those who want to hurt the families of the teens on the bus with me.
I am a reserve duty officer and I am on shlichut, serving as an emissary, for the Jewish Agency for Israel. Here I am responsible for thirty teens on a summer leadership program. There I am a deputy company commander, responsible for ninety soldiers and the safety of many more Israelis.
You can try to understand the feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I am not sure you really can. It is a feeling of having to be in two places at once and knowing that you can only be in one. It is a feeling of concern for your family and friends, who you know are fine, but you need constant reassurance. It is feeling that you need to get on a flight and do your part there. It is a feeling of being far away from home while it is under attack.
It is a need to refresh three news websites and check the latest from the field every ten minutes. It is a need to read your text messages as soon as you get them, just in case. It is the need to reluctantly trust another officer to do your job properly. It is a need to protect your home when it is under attack.
But I did not get off the bus. I did not leave the group because I had another equally important part to play here. As we drove, our staff received messages from those who have been called up, information about friends who have been injured, and friends who have fallen. But we were here, and being here means doing exactly what Israeli soldiers are fighting for us to do- keep going.
We are here and we have the responsibility for our group; to ensure that dafka now, of all times in their lives, these teens have the most meaningful summer experience. As I sat on the bus I looked at them, talked to them, and shared my feelings with them. They asked about everything, and I answered honestly. We helped each other to keep going, to push on.
They are the best youth that Israel and America have- bright, inquisitive, mature and dedicated. In a few years the Israelis will be enlisting to the different units of the IDF to fight the battles on the ground. The Americans will be off to college and will likely find themselves fighting hostilities on campus. Soon they will be responsible for the next group on the bus and our trust will be in them to lead the those next down the line.
Through their travels the participants of Havaya 2014 experienced Israel at war, but at the same time they experienced the same Israel at its finest. They traveled the long roads of the USA to bring smiles to the faces of underprivileged children that they had never met before. They experienced Jewish peoplehood, practiced tikkun olam and honed their leadership skills at levels well beyond their years.
This summer thirty teenagers traveled to Israel for ‘another’ development program and returned as young adults with life altering lessons that could not be taught from any curriculum. They will carry with them a havaya (literally- an experience) that is more significant and powerful than any single siren or rocket. During these past weeks Israeli soldiers on the front lines have been fighting an enemy bent on terrorizing an entire country. As I sat on the bus I realized; Hamas picked a fight with Israel, but that they are dealing with a much larger, stronger force- the Jewish people and our future.

Read more: Two Places at Once | Yoav Cohen | The Blogs | The Times of Israel
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Monday, July 14, 2014

A Pre-Shabbat Message from Westchester Shaliach, Yoav Cohen

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dear Friends,

I write to you from Israel, as we travel around with a group of teens from the New York area, including Westchester. First and most importantly, we are safe and fine. The current security situation has only made us vary our plans slightly, and our teens are enjoying and getting the most out of their visit to Eretz Yisrael.
This latest escalation in violence from the Gaza Strip comes again in the form of rockets being fired deliberately towards populated areas around Israel. While the Iron Dome system has had a success rate of over 90% in intercepting rockets, over 6 million people are currently affected directly. People may have between 15 seconds and a minute to find shelter.

With that, I see first hand how Israelis are handling the situation by staying strong, positive and supportive of our security forces. We are showing our strength by continuing to live - going to work, sitting in coffee shops, and shopping in preparation for Shabbat. We are vigilant and aware, and keep going with a smile.
I know that in times like these, when Israel and Israelis face the most challenging of threats in recent years, that the Westchester community has been and will continue to stand alongside Israel in every way possible. I am aware of different initiatives that have been organized in Westchester and I urge you to show your support in any way you can. Please check with the Westchester Jewish Council and any of the relevant affiliated agencies to see what you can do.

We all hope and pray that the current violence will subside as soon as possible and that quiet will return to the region. Until then, please keep the soldiers of the IDF, Israel's Magen David Adom medical teams, the Israeli police, security forces and volunteers in your thoughts and prayers.

Wishing us all a Shabbat Shalom,

Yoav Cohen, Westchester Community Shaliach

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Guest Post: Maybe Next Year by Paul Warhit

I spent last week with 5,000 Jews at the URJ biennial in San Diego, California and I came away with 2 observations.  The first observation is that nobody in his right mind would return to New York in December after spending 4 days in sunny San Diego.  Yet here I am back in New York.

The second observation is that while I am extremely comfortable being a Jew in Westchester in 2013, that comfort level reaches new heights when I am surrounded by thousands of other Jews all learning, singing, eating, and praying together.  As vibrant as our Westchester Jewish community is, we are still a minority population.  It is incredibly empowering when 5,000 Jews take over a convention center and become the majority for a few days.  It's nice to know that wherever you look, you'll see YOUR people.

Of course, that euphoria quickly dissipated as soon as the cab dropped me off at the airport Sunday morning and I became part of a religious minority once again.  It's not like I was discriminated against or anyone looked at me funny.  It was just that I was no longer surrounded by MY people and that absolutely changed things for me.  I had lost that confidence; that swagger that I had back in San Diego.  Coincidentally, when I landed at JFK airport and left my gate, I passed a gate with a group of passengers on line to board a flight to Tel Aviv on El Al.  I thought to myself, "My bags are already packed.  I could be in Eretz Yisrael in a mere 12 hours.  I could be surrounded by millions of MY people and soak in the feeling that I longed for."  I actually stopped walking and thought about it for a moment.  Then reality hit and I continued walking toward the exit.

I love living in Westchester with all our wonderful neighbors.  I appreciate the ethnic and religious diversity our community offers.  At the same time, I do enjoy being surrounded by MY people.  Maybe one day.  Maybe next year in Jerusalem.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Guest Post: Breaking Bread and Breaking Down Barriers by Paul Warhit

I just returned home from the Thanksgiving Diversity Breakfast at Manhattanville College, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Duchesne Center, and the Westchester Jewish Council in addition to an impressive list of community partners.  They were the most enjoyable three hours I've spent in a long time.  We started by enjoying a delicious breakfast while giving honor to 3 deserving recipients for their efforts in promoting diversity throughout Westchester County.  That was followed by scintillating conversations with my tablemates discussing what each of us is doing to improve relations among different racial/ethnic/religious groups in our community and how we can collaborate to do even more.  The best part of this discussion is that it took place with people I did not know who looked and prayed differently than I do.  And that is a VERY GOOD thing.

The program's theme was "Building the Mosaic" and the event did just that.  Benzinger Hall was filled with 300 people of all colors, religions, nationalities, and sizes with three objectives in mind. 

#1- To greet each other and enjoy our company.
#2- To celebrate the level of success we've achieved in the area of diversity in Westchester County.
#3- To acknowledge that there is still much work to do and to discuss ways to cooperate to make sure no individual or group is left out of our welcoming community.

I left the Diversity Breakfast energized and thankful.  I was energized by the level of mutual respect and commitment to improve on a community that cherishes our diversity.  We acknowledge our differences and embrace the beauty that each of our communities brings to the larger table.  And I was thankful that Ilissa and I are able to raise our three children in an environment where people of all backgrounds treat each other with respect and recognize that we are all created in God's image and are deserving of each other's appreciation.

The message shared by those in attendance was a simple one, but one that can never be repeated enough.  Now it is time to return to the good work that we've begun.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Guest Post: Zero Tolerance by Paul Warhit

We tell our children that they should neither bully others nor allow themselves to be bullied. We hold instructive classes teaching our children how bullying is a destructive practice that can only lead to bad things. In extreme instances, children and young adults end up taking their own lives after relentless bullying either in person or via the internet pushes them beyond the limits of rational thought.

The news of Miami Dolphins' offensive lineman, Richie Incognito, bullying teammate Jonathan Martin should come as no shock. While it is true that neither Richie nor Jonathan are in middle school or high school, serious bullying behavior was going on to the point that Martin had to distance himself from Incognito by leaving the team and missing last Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

I'm not surprised that this bullying went on between grown adults. I'd bet that to varying degrees, bullying behavior goes on in workplace environments more than we'd like to believe. What I'm surprised about is that Martin's teammates did nothing to stop the bullying. It is almost impossible to miss the signs of bullying in a close-knit environment like a team locker room. Whether Martin's teammates decided not to step in to defend him against Incognito or if they actively participated in the bullying, they must be held responsible for the torment Martin went through.

We teach our children to stand up to injustices and help those in need. We insist that the weak among us are protected against predators and that bullies are brought to justice. The Miami Dolphins organizations and Jonathan Martin's teammates let him down in an extremely profound manner. By not watching out for Jonathan Martin's back, they allowed Richie Incognito to prey on an emotionally weaker individual and failed to embrace their teammate and do the right thing. I am relieved that Jonathan decided to go public instead of dealing with his personal anguish privately and possibly hurting himself.

The Westchester Jewish Council is proud to take a "zero tolerance" position when it comes to bullying. Jewish tradition teaches us that it is our responsibility to care for the stranger among us and to protect the weak. This incident in the Miami Dolphins locker room should serve as an example of what not to do. We should take this opportunity to sit with our children and make sure they understand that there is no place for bullying in a civilized society and that we expect them to speak up when they witness this behavior among their peers. Our children should view Jonathan Martin as the victim and a hero for speaking up. They should view Richie Incognito as the bully and thug that he is. It should be Richie Incognito and the bullies like him who are ostracized from our society.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Responses to the Pew Report: A Portrait of American Jews

To read the Pew Report "A Portrait of American Jews" click here.

Responses to the Pew Report are below.  This list is not comprehensive nor in any particular author.  The views expressed in each article are those of its author and do not represent the views of the Westchester Jewish Council.

From the New York Times:  Poll Show Major Shift in Identity of U.S. Jews

From  Beware as the Spin Begins:  Early Headlines on the Pew American Jewish Population Study

From Rabbis Without Borders via  A New Spiritual Comfort Zone:  Reflecting on the Pew Study

From Ha'Aretz:  Reengaging American Jews, Before They Drift Away

From Religion New Service:  Winners and Losers in the Pew Research Poll on American Jews

From The Washington Post:  8 Fascinating Trends in How American Jews Think about Israel

From The Times of Israel:  Rise of 'Jews of No Religion' Most Significant Find of Pew Study, Director Says

From The Forward:  Jews Express Wide Criticism of Israel in Pew Survey but Leaders Dismiss Findings

From Commentary Magazine:  American Jews:  Laughing but Shrinking

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013 Day of Chesed

Westchester Jewish Council Board Members and staff were among those in attendance at the Jewish Community Center of Mid-Westchester on Sunday, September 15th, participating in the annual Day of Chesed.

WJC President Paul Warhit
with Board Member Harriet Zeller
Stuart Kolbert (pictured, below) remarked, "The Day of Chesed once again shows the Jewish community at work, helping and assisting the general community in anyway we can. The young participants are learning the importance of helping those less fortunate. As Jews we continue responding to world crisis. Why don't we get better press?"

WJC Board Member Stuart Kolbert
with Executive Director Elliot Forchheimer
Harriet (Gigi) Zeller (pictured, right) said, "An incredible day of Tikun was heartwarming to see so many attendees of all ages working together for the benefit of so many here and abroad."

WJC Board Member Mark Reisman said, "I was moved to be in the presence of so many people of all ages
and backgrounds enthusiastically taking part in the Mid-Westchester JCC's Day of Chesed. Coming on the heels of Yom Kippur and springing from the ashes of horrific national tragedy, the Day of Chesed helped me translate contemplation and sadness into inspiration and positive action. Yasher Koach to all who sponsored and participated in this terrific day!"

"Once again this year the Jewish Community Center of Mid-Westchester became the center of our community's expression of volunteerism in commemoration of 9/11," added WJC Executive Director Elliot Forchheimer.  "Thank you, JCC!"