An Israeli team of 17 minor hockey players, aged 10 to 14, was in Winnipeg last week and, despite their religious differences, their only opposition was the team at the other end of the rink.
“It is very exciting,” said Itamar Melzar, 10, from Metula, Israel, with the help of a translator. “There are so many opportunities for hockey here.”
They are students of the Canada Israel Hockey School based in the northern Israeli city of Metula and, on Sunday, they faced off against the Corydon Comets Pewee A3 team.
The team consists of 12 Jewish and five Muslim children from the Galilee region, said Shelley Faintuch, community relations director for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
“These kids wouldn’t have an opportunity otherwise to play hockey together. They don’t all live in the same town,” she said. “The Muslim kids actually travel over two hours by car to get to the ice rink in Metula twice a month. It is an entire outing and it mobilizes the entire family.”
Mike Mazeika, a Canadian, has been living and teaching hockey at the Metula school for 13 months.
“It is so rewarding,” said Mazeika. “I’m actually getting emotional… some of these kids could barely skate five days ago and today they played so well.”
DJ Schneeweiss, the Israeli consul general, flew in from Toronto to watch the students take on the local team on Sunday. He said bringing the students to Canada can educate Canadians about the culture of Israel that is often misinterpreted.
“It brings a young face of Israel into Canada and very completely human face,” said Schneeweiss.
Schneeweiss said with conflict in the Middle East, playing hockey in Metula can be a healthy distraction.
“When you go into an area like that, it’s all self-contained. It’s sort of its own world. And I think that’s probably a good thing; it allows them to sort of shut out what may be going on outside.”
While in Winnipeg, the students played and practised their hockey skills for 90 minutes each morning. In the evenings, they participated in different Canadian activities such as bowling, curling and sledding before returning to their billet families.
Marla Vittera hosted the two youngest visitors, Amit Vinegrad, 11, and Itamar.
“It’s been exhausting but very rewarding,” said Vittera. “They have been doing so many things but they are enjoying themselves.”
Vittera said they enjoy the basic Canadian food.
“I took the time and made a great spaghetti dinner and no response,” said Vittera.
“I made chicken fingers and fries the next night and I’m a hero.”
Itamar’s favourite Canadian food on his visit has been pizza. While in Winnipeg, not only has his appetite improved, Itamar said his hockey skills have improved, too.
“They taught me a few new things that I didn’t know before,” said Itamar through his translator. “There a lot more opportunities here, so I feel that I am better.”
Itamar’s team is called the Macabi Young Metula.
By the end of the first period they were down 1-0 to the Comets. By the end of the second, it was 2-2. But in the third period, the Israeli team succumbed to the Comets 5-2.
It didn’t matter to the fans though. The cheers were loud for every save and every goal.
by Andrew Lee
Although I have heard about the Jews living in China, I never attempted to find out more about them and their culture and thus, when I arrived to the planned destination point, I was shocked to realize that she looked Chinese. If I had just casually met her on the streets I would have never guessed that she was a Jew. Hailing from the region of Kaifeng, in the Henan province of China, she was one of the first groups of Chinese Jews, thanks to Shavei Israel, who preformed aliyah and began their reintegration with the Jewish community. I have been residing in Israel for 7 months; however, every time I am out and about Israelis assume that I am a tourist and attempt to speak broken Chinese to me, thus reinforcing the feeling of being an outsider. Therefore, I automatically presumed that she also is exposed to the same treatment and I poised a question that went, Inwardly you are a Jew, however outwardly you appear to be Chinese, how has assimilating into Israel been for you? Her answer baffled me. She replied, right when I left the plane, and knowing nothing about both Jews and Israel, I felt an extreme sense of returning home. Afterwards, I began to think about her answer and I realized that for her and the rest of the Jewish world, Israel is home and thus, regardless of how people receive you, it does not diminish it. Even if people forevermore assume that she is a tourist it does not matter because she will always be a Jew and therefore Israel will always be her home
A young Arab woman in Jericho was bitten on her foot by a poisonous viper in 2008. When the local clinic was unable to treat her, an Israeli ambulance jeep drove the woman almost two hours through the Jordan Valley to Emek Medical Center, where the anti-venom serum was available. She was already unconscious at that point, but her life was saved in the nick of time.
This is just one of many such stories that Larry Rich relates to an ever-widening audience, with the goal of demonstrating how Israel’s medical establishment serves as a paradigm for coexisting cultures in conflict.
“For years, I have considered Emek Medical Center and the human reality here as a shining example of sanity in a world going mad – literally a beacon of light and hope for anybody who cares to focus on something sane,” says Rich, the Detroit-born director of development and international public relations at the hospital.
Rich is a grassroots diplomat for Israel, speaking to multiethnic audiences in Europe and North America about everyday inspiring scenes at Israel’s hospitals that never make the news.
Many of these stories are recorded in his 2005 book, Voices from Armageddon, which relates how Arab and Jewish medical staff at Emek routinely treats “the other.”
“Jewish-Arab cooperation may be seen in every hospital from Eilat to Nahariya,” stresses Rich. “What is special about Emek is its unique 50-50 ratio. In the northeast, we are the primary healthcare provider for a population of 500,000, equally divided between Arabs and Jews. In no other place in Israel does this symbolic ratio exist.”
Saving lives in Armageddon
Emek Medical Center is situated in Afula, a Jezreel Valley municipality near Megiddo, the fabled site of the future Armageddon and a geographically strategic area that has seen many famous battles during the last 4,000 years.
The medical center’s professional staff mirrors the national ratio: 20 percent overall is Arab, and 20% of the heads of medical departments are Arab Muslims or Christians, Druse or Circassians.
Throughout the years, the medical staff has actively pursued international opportunities to share its expertise, as do many other Israeli hospitals.
In 2012 alone, the head of Emek’s intensive care unit traveled with two nurses, on behalf of the Foreign Ministry, to the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, to open a new trauma center and train the local medical staff. The director of Emek’s Pediatric Gastroenterology Clinic lectured at the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition’s summer course in Madrid. And Prof. Hava Tabenkin, Emek’s chief of family medicine and chair of the National Council of Women’s Health, spearheaded a Family Medicine Fellowship program with Providence, Rhode Island’s Miriam Hospital and Memorial Hospital.
Arrif and Mohammed
In 1997, Rich was taken to Emek after suffering a heart attack. “When I woke up in the cardiac intensive care at Emek Medical Center, I saw Arab and Jewish physicians working together to save me. I had been in the country 25 years, but I still had stereotypes in my mind about Arabs. I never made the academic/professional connection,” he says.
Within two years, he had left his industrial job and created an office to market the hospital to overseas donors. Over the past 13 years, he has written up and shared the many experiences he and staffers witness at the facility – from a Jewish surgeon operating on a wounded Arab terrorist during the intifada to an Arab nurse assuring a wary mother that the Jewish hospital was indeed a safe place for her child sick with cancer.
“Today in Emek, I was leading a group of visitors from England on a tour of our School for Hospitalized Children,” he wrote in one email to supporters. “I introduced the group to Arrif and his fifteen-year-old-son, Mohammed. They come from Gaza. They have been ‘living’ in Emek for 10 months as young Mohammed is being treated for severe facial cancer. Arrif speaks fluent Hebrew and I conducted a simultaneously translated Q&A session between him and the British visitors …
“Q. How do you feel here, among the Jews of Israel?
“A. Perfectly normal and at ease. Grateful – so very grateful.
“Q. What does your family back in Gaza say about Mohammed’s treatment here?
“A. They are amazed and they send their sincere gratitude. They cannot believe what has and is being done for Mohammed and me.
Time for a positive message
Rich, who has a gift for public speaking with his radio-announcer voice, has long told of these episodes to international visitors to the medical center and on his fundraising trips abroad.
“After people heard the stories of the reality of what takes place here in Emek, they always asked why I am not speaking for Israel and only for the hospital,” he relates. The Foreign Ministry agreed, registering him as an official speaker in 2007.
Last year, Rich was invited to address an audience at Trinity College in Ireland, arranged through the parents of Emek’s director of ophthalmology Dr. Daniel Briscoe, an Irish Jew. The Israeli embassy in Dublin paid for his accommodations and the Dublin Jewish community covered his transportation costs.
“I created a lecture about Israel seen through the prism of a medical institution. I decided to present positive realities of human cooperation that take place daily and hourly here, not only in the hospital but in the immediate region,” says Rich. “I stayed away from terror, war and anything negative in our part of the world. It was time for a positive message.”
More than 50 Christians and Jews turned out, along with Israeli Ambassador Boaz Modai, to hear what Rich had to say. Later, he was interviewed on Irish national radio station RTE.
Intense curiosity among listeners
Based on the positive reactions to his appearances in Dublin, Rich was recruited by Noam Katz, the Minister of Public Diplomacy at Israel’s Embassy in Washington to give several lectures while he was in the United States on hospital business in April 2012.
“His office put together an itinerary for me to speak for four days in Washington, which I gladly accepted,” says Rich. “They intentionally arranged some challenging audiences because they were curious to see the impact of my talk.”
Rich was also invited by the Jewish Federation of Detroit to speak before a delegation of Arab leaders representing nearly a million Arabs in this region, which has the highest concentration of Muslims in the United States.
“These people came up to me afterward and said they had never heard such a message coming out of Israel,” Rich reports. “They wanted to hear more about this cooperation at ground level. They want me to speak in their communities.”
The ethnically mixed prep school Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island hosted Rich, as did the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, several groups in Connecticut, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
In Washington, he spoke to Georgetown University medical students and faculty, and a large organization of hospital owners. He found “intense curiosity” on the part of individuals and Jewish communities to hear his perspective.
Human behavior at its best
“I started each of my lectures by saying, ‘Let’s get something clear from the start: I am not a politician or a general in the army. I am just a guy from the street come to open a small window for you to peek in and visit Israel,’ and then I started telling real-life stories of cooperation, education and life-saving on a professional, patient and family level,” Rich says.
He finishes his presentations by stressing that he cannot dictate what anyone chooses to believe, but hopes to shift their focus.
“Every person has the choice to focus on positive examples or to focus on hate and divisiveness, and that is what you will perpetuate,” Rich says.
His final lecture was before leaders and members of a left-wing Israel advocacy organization.
“At the end of the lecture, someone asked if the stories I had told were the exception. I said, ‘These stories are the norm. They go on in Israel all across the spectrum, every hour of every day, north to south – except that is not what you’re hearing in the news.’
“I explained humbly that all of these stories are not the answer to the problem in the Middle East, but an example of human behavior at its best, of people making conscious decisions to live and work together. This is something people are hungry to hear, not about blame or excuses.”
Many people all over the world dream of visiting Jerusalem and its holy sites once day to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. While some manage to go on a pilgrimage to the city, many others never have the opportunity to do so.
A new website, Jerusalem Experience, is now offering the opportunity to visit Jerusalem and its holy sites without having to leave home through a series of videos – a godsend for millions of Christians all over the world who cannot afford the time or the expense of flying all the way to Jerusalem.
The founder of JerusalemExperience.com, Eran Frenkel, came up with the idea for his website while taking visitors to the Old City of Jerusalem during his tenure as VP of Marketing and Business Development at an aerospace company in Israel.
“You should have seen the look on their faces when they entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” he says.
The videos on the site are organized not only according to major location but also according to theme, for example Christian feasts.
The site features many other videos that take each visitor on a private tour of Jerusalem and its famous holy sites, as well as of many other lesser known but equally fascinating sites in the Holy City.
Israel’s population stands at 7,981,000 citizens, an increase of nearly 2 percent, according to an annual end of the year tally from the Central Bureau of Statistics, released on Sunday.
Of those nearly 8 million residents, 75.4 percent (6,015,000) are Jewish, 20.6% (1,648,000) are Arab (both Muslim and Christian) and the remaining 4% (319,000) are either non-Arab Christians or those who declined to state their religious affiliation to the Interior Ministry.
The year 2012 saw 170,000 babies born in the country, and Israel welcomed some 16,500 new immigrants, leading to a population growth of 1.8%, similar to previous years.
Story via Times of Israel
A parade of performers dressed in costumes representing the season’s various holidays gathered in the northern city of Haifa for a festive celebration of the region’s religiously diverse community.
The annual festival, known as the Holiday of the Holidays, celebrates Christian Christmas, Muslim Eid al-Adha and Jewish Hanukkah.
Organizers say the event is meant to promote the religious and cultural diversity of Haifa, one of the country’s few mixed Jewish-Arab cities.
Even President Shimon Peres found himself caught up in the Christmas spirit, joining a children’s choir for a classic holiday tune.
While the festival attracted plenty of Muslims residents this year, Eid al-Adha was not actually celebrated because it took place in October.
Still, the event was a success, with attendees lining up to chat with performers and take part in the celebration.
The annual festival, which aims to bring Arab and Jewish communities closer together, attracts some 200,000 people from across Israel and abroad.