I was born and raised in Lebanon, and until I left at age 23, I had never met a single Jewish person. Unlike Arabs who live freely in Israel, Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries, and they are still not welcome there. When I left Lebanon, one of the questions on my mind was ‘who are the Jews’?
Since my arrival in Canada in 1984, and since the creation of the Internet, I have met many Jews. I include short stories about some of them here. Each is unique. Their political views range from liberal to conservative, and their religious views range from secular to Orthodox. Some are public figures while others are very private individuals. They come from and they live in many parts of the world.
The common denominator among them is that they all share a love for Israel and a pride in being part of the Jewish family. Unlike the past when Jews were a tiny, defenseless, and often oppressed minority in each country where they lived, Jews today refuse to be intimidated. Regardless of where they are, they insist on their right to live in their home, Israel.
The vast majority of Jews were directly impacted by the Holocaust. Even 70 years after the end of WWII, the memory of the Holocaust is a dark presence in their lives, and so is anti-Semitism which now also encompasses anti-Zionism. But Jews are not asking for pity. They simply want to make “Never Again” a reality, and Israel plays a central role in that objective. It is the one place in the world where Jews can always feel at home.
This renaissance of Jewish pride, spurred by the rebirth of Israel, does not sit well with a world that has been anti-Semitic since the Jews first came into existence. Anti-Semitism is a world-wide phenomenon, and Arabs were not spared this poison. Like all forms of racism and bigotry, anti-Semitism grows best in the dark and infested corners of ignorance.
The Israel / Arab conflict is rooted in the unwillingness of Arabs to accept the presence of Jews in the Middle East as equals. Arabs choose to demonize Jews and attribute an array of evil motives to them, but Jews just want to live in peace and safety on their ancestral land.
If we Arabs take the time to understand the facts of history and to see Jews as the diverse, complex, and often fascinating individuals that they are, we may feel compelled to stop hating them. This would be the first step towards peace.
Adam was born in the U.K. to a nurse who placed him for adoption at birth. His genetic grandmother was a Holocaust survivor who married an American G.I. who had helped liberate the camps. Adam’s family made Aliyah in 1979 when he was ten years old (Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to Israel, meaning “the act of going up” as in progressing towards Jerusalem). He is not religious, but he respects his Jewish heritage and culture, and he feels an obligation to maintain them, especially in these times.
Bat Zion Susskind-Sacks
Bat Zion was born in Israel in the early days of the reborn state. Her parents, who were both Holocaust survivors, met in labor camps in White Russia and Lithuania. Despite being emotionally scarred, they raised her to appreciate those different from her and to be sensitive to the suffering of all human beings. Growing up in Israel in the early years, Bat Zion felt that everything was hard yet simple; the love of the Land and the connection to the Land were felt in every aspect of her life. She had the Zionist spirit, born out of suffering, pain, and loss, but also great pride.
After she served in the army, her parents sent her to a private school in England. They were poor but when it came to education, they spent their best money on Bat Zion and her brother. She earned her teaching certificate at a teacher’s college in Israel then went to the U.S. where she completed her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Judaic Studies. She then went on to earn a joint graduate degree in Business and Hospital Administration.
In 2013, she published her first novel “On a Wing from the Holy Land”, and she has written two more novels since. Bat Zion also writes blogs in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post. She is now back in Israel where she teaches English and raises awareness of the legacy of millions of Jews who have suffered throughout history.
Binyamin is an Israeli-American of Iraqi-Syrian Jewish descent. He grew up in the U.S. largely ignorant of his heritage and indigenous connection to Israel. Growing awareness of both the BDS movement and anti-Semitism on the far left caused him to withdraw from the East Coast punk scene and become an online activist for Israel. He is compelled equally by a sense of betrayal and a desire for peace and reconciliation. He writes a blog at Israellycool.
Carey is an American orthodox Jew and a Zionist. Her father, who is now 75, is a Holocaust survivor. She says that remembrance of the Holocaust and of her father’s experience has been her point of entry into Judaism. She has always been very aware that her father survived while many did not, and for that reason, she felt the need to do something worthwhile in her life.
Despite her father’s experiences or because of them, her father loves all people and insists on peace rather than war. Carey’s whole life has been dedicated to fighting against injustice. Now as a mother of four and married for 18 years, her thinking has aligned more with her father, and she still wants justice but not so much fighting. She feels now that peace and dialogue are the answers.
Carol grew up in the U.S., and she still remembers being fascinated by Israel as a teenager. In college, she started reading about Israel, and she joined a Zionist youth group. One of her most cherished memories in the U.S. is July 4, 1976, when she attended an Independence Day picnic while her ears were glued to the radio listening to the news reports of the Entebbe Raid.
Carol first went to Israel in 1982 on a trip (similar to Birthright) with other college students, and she fell in love with the country. She says, “There is no other way to describe it – I just felt as if I had come home. I returned in 1984 and never looked back.” Now, more than 30 years later, with three children and a career as a police officer, Israel is still her passion and she considers that moving there was the best thing she ever did for herself and for children.
When she sees the rising anti-Semitism in Europe and in the U.S., Carol is grateful that her children grew up in Israel, proud of who they are and connected to their land and their people.
Claire was born and raised in the U.S. by a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. She and her mother joined a conservative synagogue, and when she was 15, several members pooled their resources and sent her on a youth trip to Israel.
That trip began her love affair with Israel. She volunteered for two weeks on a base in Tzfat, and she was taken aback when total strangers treated her like a long lost relative. They invited her to join them at their tables at cafes and to their homes for Shabbat.
Claire was at the Western Wall that summer for Tisha B’Av, and she met an elderly woman who was pouring her heart out, tears streaming down her cheeks. That image changed forever the way she saw Jerusalem.
Claire now lives in Chicago with her husband and four children. She was never directly impacted by the Holocaust until she married a man whose grandfather had survived the Holocaust. Claire developed a great relationship with her grandfather-in-law, and he shared his story with her.
Daniel is an Israeli born in Israel. His great grandmother lived in Palestine in the 1920s but then she moved back to Europe. His family made Aliyah after WWII, during which they were in a concentration camp in Italy.
In Israel, Daniel’s grandmother asked her mother, “why are you calling this ‘home’ when there is nothing here except desert?”, and his great grandmother replied, “it is home because here nobody will call me a ‘dirty Jew’ the moment I turn my back, and we will build it to be beautiful.” With the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, Daniel feels that he now better understands what she meant.
Dina had a secular childhood, and she is still not religious. When she was younger, she was not much of a Zionist, but she became an active supporter of Israel when she retired a few years ago and had more time to follow the news. As her awareness of vicious and outrageously unfair attacks on Israel grew, so did her support for Zionism. She had always been moved by injustice, so it seemed right to devote her retirement to fighting Israel-bashing.
The more she learns about Israel’s many facets, the more Dina is in awe of what Israel has accomplished.
Fiona’s great great maternal grandmother was a daughter of Mizrahi Jews who migrated from Iraq to Malaya. They had a local Chinese business partner. Her parents died due to typhoid or cholera, but she survived and married the son of the Chinese business partner. The business thrived and she had a son and a daughter (Fiona’s maternal great grandmother). Fiona’s maternal great grandmother married into another Chinese/Peranakan business family, and so it goes on.
Her late father was a descendent of Jews from China who went there to trade with the Persians during the silk-route era of Genghis Khan. They subsequently intermarried but later generations reconverted back to Judaism.
Fiona’s family tried to hide their Jewishness due to business dealings with the Malayan Muslims, but she feels that now is the time to come out of the closet. The Chinese however played no part in Fiona’s family hiding their Jewishness. She says that the Chinese are not anti-Semitic and never have been.
Fred is a Canadian secular Jew and author of “Conservative Confidential”, a book where he describes his journey from left-wing activist to Conservative organizer. In the book, which he dedicates to the memory of Christopher Hitchens, an atheist intellectual who experienced a similar journey, he explains the role that the 9/11 terrorist attack played in that transformation, particularly the shocking reactions to that attack by some of the leading left-wing personalities.
Fred is the founder and President of NorthernBlues Music, a Canadian independent record label that specializes in blues music. He is the creator of Gay And Right, a blog for gay Conservatives, and he is the founder of The Free Thinking Film Society, an organization that in its own words, celebrates “the efforts of risk-taking documentarians whose work espouses the values of limited, democratic government, free market economies, equality of opportunity rather than equality of result, and the dignity of the individual”.
Gabriel lives in the U.S. where he considers himself a moderate leftist. He describes himself as a Queer Israeli-American academic who studies Jewishness and gender in U.S. media and cultural studies. On the Israel/Arab conflict, he is for two states, Israel and Palestine, and he is anti-war although he supports Israel’s right to defend itself. As a licensed attorney, he is committed to supporting civil liberties and human rights.
Gabriel’s great-grandfather died at the World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1927, and he inspired his children to make Aliyah. His maternal grandparents made Aliyah from Germany and Lithuania on youth repatriation schemes in the early 1930s which allowed them to save his grandmother’s parents and sister in 1939. His paternal grandparents made Aliyah in the 1930s from Western Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova.
His family would not have survived WWII had it not been for Zionism. Gabriel would not have been born. Israel really was his family’s refuge.
When Israel’s enemies lie about Zionism and about its history, calling it terrorism, racism, settler colonialism, supremacy, ethnic cleansing, and Apartheid, Gabriel responds that those are the evils that his family fled from, and that contrary to nostalgic mythologies promoted by anti-Zionists, a warm-hearted reception from Arabs was not what they got.
Gail was raised in the Reform Movement in Oakland, California. She toured Israel for six weeks in 1978 and fell in love with the country. She went back to study in 1990 for three months. She is now working as a Cantor in the U.S.
Her great-grandparents died in the Holocaust and two cousins were on the Kindertransport (rescue efforts that brought thousands of Jewish children to Great Britain from Germany between 1938 and 1940). Her grandfather’s brother was in Dachau but his wife managed to get him out. Both of Gail’s husband’s parents were in the camps (Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen), and they both lost siblings and parents.
On Gail’s father’s side, his ancestors came from Germany to California in the 1850s. Her great-grandfather landed in New York and sailed around the cape of South America and came to the West Coast of the U.S. Her great-grandmother came across the U.S. in a covered wagon. Both of her grandparents were in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire.
Jim’s family has been in the U.S. for 125 years. He was born in the state of New York where he studied history. His passions are history, world affairs, and literature. He is not religious, and he is politically liberal.
Jim has not yet been to Israel, but he supports it, more for practical than religious reasons. He feels that history, including the Holocaust, has proven that Jews need a state for their own security and sense of self-worth. He feels that it is morally right for Jews to have freedom and democracy which they did not have in many of the countries where they were a minority.
Jodie was born in Canada. Her family, who appears to have had Turkish origins, emigrated from Russia in the early 1900s.
Most of her family escaped the horrors of the Holocaust, but a few perished. Jodie’s uncle, who was in the U.S. Navy, was caught by Nazis and incarcerated in a work camp until the end if the war. He was assumed dead, but to protect himself he had switched his identification tag with a fellow non-Jewish soldier who had died. Her father also joined the U.S. Navy; he learned of the massive death camps in Germany, which left him deeply traumatized and helpless as millions of innocent Jews and non-Jews were brutally murdered. Later, as part of the U.S. Marines, he saw the horrible aftermath of Hiroshima. He remained angry and mistrusting of the world for the rest of his life.
Jodie experienced anti-Semitism while growing up in Canada in the 50’s and 60’s. She faced verbal violence and threats. She always felt connected to Israel, especially when she became a teenager and did not quite fit in with non-Jews who did not understand her religion and culture. She met two Jewish girls who became lifelong friends. Jodie believes that only Israel will protect the Jewish people and that Jews cannot rely on others.
When she looks at the pictures of her family from Russia, who came to North America with nothing because Russia took almost everything from them, she thanks them from the bottom her heart for having had the bravery to come to a new world to build lives for themselves and their families.
Judith lives in the U.S. but she is also Canadian. Her late uncle was a Survivor of the Sachsenhausen camp, but during the war his family assumed that he had died. He managed to escape six months before the end of the war; he was only 14 years old. When the war ended, he found out that his mother, sister, and brother-in-law had also survived, and they chose to move to Canada. Her uncle also chose to live well because that was his way of getting his revenge against the Nazis.
Judith’s mother worked for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and she was posted in Winnipeg, which is where she met her husband, Judith’s father. They married in the Rabbi’s study because a wedding would have been too expensive. They then moved to the U.S. because of a job opportunity. Judith was born in the U.S., but her parents registered her at the Canadian embassy, so she is Canadian too.
Unlike their Orthodox parents, Judy’s parents practiced Conservative Judaism. Growing up Jewish in a non-Jewish neighborhood had its challenges, but Judith’s mother insisted that her children attend Hebrew school and join Jewish groups. Judith’s mother worked for B’Nai B’rith at the international headquarters, so Judith and her siblings were surrounded by all things Jewish, and Israel was and is very important to them.
B’nai B’rith staffers became even more important in Judith’s life when they and Judith’s mother were held hostage by Hanafi Muslims. In this event that is still a very traumatic memory for Judith, terrorists took over B’nai B’rith along with two other buildings. When she learned what was happening, she was devastated. The city was locked down for nearly three days, and the kidnappers threatened to behead hostages. The ambassadors of Egypt and Pakistan helped, but the Iranian Ambassador finally secured the hostages’ freedom, for which Judith later thanked him personally. She is grateful to the police, the Red Cross, and all the loving ministers, priests, and rabbis who gave her family emotional and spiritual support. When the first hostages walked out of the buildings, church bells rang out across the city, and Judith and her family and friends sang Hatikva (The Hope – the National Anthem of Israel) while hugging. When her mother was released, she was dirty, exhausted, and wearing torn clothes, but she was the most beautiful sight that Judith ever saw.
Judy grew up in Canada, and she moved to the U.S. in 1969. She is married to an Israeli and she teaches Hebrew and Jewish studies.
At age 17, she enrolled at the University of Manitoba, intending to befriend Arab students on campus in order to promote understanding between Jews and Arabs. After a rather embarrassing incident where a Jewish friend used Arabic swear words while an Arab student was sitting nearby, she was surprised that the Arab student introduced himself by saying “Ma shlomcha” in gender inappropriate Hebrew. It turned out that the Arab student, named Mohammad, was a West Bank Palestinian who had traveled to Canada using a refugee ID card.
Judy and Mohammed became great friends, and he helped her smoke up her mother’s kitchen in a marginally successful attempt at making pita bread and falafel. Judy went on to make many other Arab friends over the years, both in person and online, individually and with her husband.
Justin was born in South Africa because his grandmother left Lithuania in the 1930s to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. He always thought of Jews as an extended family, and he says that when Jews travel the world, they have something called a “Jewdar” that goes up, that sense of spotting another Jew. He adds that sometimes when two Jews from different parts of the world meet, there is an instant connection that goes back to the fact that they are part of a people, and no matter where Jews are in the world, that connection remains strong.
Kay was born in the U.K., and she made Aliyah in 1991 where she works as a Jewish tour guide.
Kay survived a brutal terrorist attack by Arabs in 2011 that killed her Christian friend Kristine Luken (the killers thought she was Jewish) and left Kay seriously injured. As Israel Today reported two years after the attack, “she continues to suffer physical pain from the stab wounds that tore through her lungs, as well as the ongoing emotional trauma that has left her bereft of strength to return to her day job”. Yet the attack did not turn Kay into a hater. The first person to visit her after the attack was an Arab bus driver with whom she had worked.
In 2014, Kay was in the news again after it became known that she had helped hide Mohammad Zoabi during the war in Gaza. Mohammad is a prominent young pro-Israel Arab who was threatened by family members after he made a video denouncing the Arab kidnappers of three Israeli teenagers. Kay explained her decision to help Mohammad by saying, “I helped him because I know from the machete scars on my own back that death threats should always be taken seriously. I helped him because, like me, he is a human being.”
Klari is an American liberal brought up in the Conservative and Reform communities. Her father lived on a Kibbutz in the 1970s, and she has over 200 family members in Israel.
Klari’s great grandfather lived in Hungary; despite being religious and despite the vast divide between the religious and those that were Zionists, he sent his children to Hebrew Zionist Gymnasium. When Klari’s family was eventually taken to Auschwitz, her great grandfather did not survive long due to his age, and when he parted ways with his daughters, he told them to make Aliyah. Klari likes to call herself a fourth generation political Zionist.
Klari writes a blog in The Times of Israel. In her latest post, “When the Swastika came to town”, she talks about an anti-Semitic incident in her community, the disappointing reaction of some people, and how it revived her pride in being Jewish.
Laura grew up in the U.S. Because of issues her parents had with some very religious members of their own families, they became very liberal during the 1970s in the post-Vietnam-war era, and they chose a secular life. Consequently, young Laura did not learn about Judaism from a religious perspective although she did identify as a Jew ethnically and culturally.
Due to living in a poor neighborhood and her parents’ concerns about the public school system, they sent her to a parochial Christian school early in her life. This set the stage for a school life marked by social struggle and painful conflict due to anti-Semitism. She was called a “Kike” at age six. On a number of occasions, she was ostracized or rejected because she was “a Jew”. She remembers longing for a Christmas tree and feeling different. She was rejected by a High School boyfriend after pressure he received from his peers to “stay away from Jews”.
At the age of 14 she attended a Jewish summer camp and for the first time in her life, she felt completely relaxed and neither different nor alone! This had a profound impact on her identification as a Jew and her desire for more connection to her heritage. In college, she learned more about Israel, and she became a Zionist.
Leah was raised a reform Jew in Australia. Her grandparents lived in Bialystok, Poland, but in the 1920s, after their four years old son (Leah’s father) was severely beaten with a whip during a pogrom, they moved to Australia. None of the members of her family who stayed in Poland survived.
Leah’s mother was a convert to Judaism. When her father told his parents that he was going to marry, his mother said “If you marry that shiksa, I will go to the top of the tallest building and throw myself off!” Her father replied, “Start climbing those stairs old lady”, but once they were married, her father’s mother fell in love with her mother.
Leah’s mother was passionate about Judaism and preferred to raise her children in the company of her in-laws rather than her own family. Except for their dry English wit, Leah found her mother’s family remote and hard to understand.
Leah’s father was secular, and he moved his family to a non-Jewish neighborhood. He had little appreciation for the pain he caused to Leah and her brother by raising them outside of the Jewish community and in a place where they were quickly branded and treated as outsiders.
Leah is an anthropologist. She believes passionately in Tikkun Olam (a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to repair the world), and her contribution comes through her work with a community of Australian Aborigines in remote Central Australia. They, like Jews, have suffered from losing self-determination due to a colonizing culture, and she feels honored to work with them.
Len was born in New York City. His father was born in Russia. After enduring pogroms, his father’s family escaped from Russia a couple of years after the Russian Revolution and went to Canada. Most of them then moved to NYC during the 1930s. Len’s parents-in-law were both Holocaust survivors from Poland.
Len’s father-in-law, Michael Kesler, edited the story of his late wife Regina Kesler (who died decades ago of cancer) in the book “GRIT: A Pediatrician’s Odyssey from a Soviet Camp to Harvard“, and he wrote his own story in the book “Shards of War.” Michael and his sister barely escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland and went to the Soviet Union, where they encountered dangers of various kinds, His parents remained in Poland and were killed by the Nazis. Regina’s family escaped to the Soviet Union and were forced to be slave laborers by the Soviets. Both Regina and MIchael settled in the United States after the war.
Leora Noor Eisenberg
Leora is an American high school student who feels profoundly attached to Israel. She was distressed by the fact that many Americans, Jews and non-Jews, have become indifferent and even hostile towards Israel, so about a year ago she became engaged in pro-Israel campus activism. She has written in Israel Hayom, VoiceIn Journal and Jerusalem Post, and she is director of youth programming at Act for Israel.
Luisa is an Israeli who does not yet speak Hebrew because she was born in Slovenia and spoke Italian at home. Her family has a mixed roots from Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Russia, Croatia, and Slovenia.
Luisa grew up in Slovenia without knowing much about Judaism or Israel until she moved to an international school in Italy where she met her best friend who is Israeli. She knew nothing about the Israel / Arab conflict and she researched it for herself. She is now studying medicine in London, England where she is exposed to anti-Semitism. The more she witnesses hate towards Israel and Jews, the more she feel connected to Israel.
Mariam lives in Sweden, and she has dual Israeli-Swedish citizenship.
Even though she loves Sweden, Mariam says that being Jewish there today is extremely dangerous. Jews cannot go to the park, much less walk in it. They cannot wear or show religious symbols without risk of being insulted, labelled Zionist racist, and attacked verbally and physically. For this reason, her love for her native country Sweden is waning. She says that young Jewish girls feel like hunted prey, and parents worry constantly.
The few Jewish religious institutions left in Sweden are guarded by armed police and guards behind bomb-proof armored glass. Mariam says that Sweden is being flooded by migrants fleeing oppression and cruelty, but many bring with them the anti-Semitism of the country they fled. Her husband and her stepdaughter have received death threats. She says that the government is in denial; one politician has actually said, in earnest, that anti-Semitism does not exist in Sweden.
Mariam and her husband have started planning their Aliyah.
Michael was born and raised in Wisconsin, U.S., where he witnessed Anti-Semitism from the age of 9, and that prompted him to seek knowledge on Judaism and Israel. He quickly became an outspoken advocate for Israel. In 2009 he created his Facebook profile, and he used social media to dispute lies about Israel and the Jewish people.
In 2013 Michael created his first Facebook page “Israel’s Voice” to promote accurate information on Israel. Faced with the onslaught of anti-Israel misinformation and blatant anti-Semitism in social media, he felt that silence was no longer an option for Jews and others who support Israel. He also extended “Israel’s Voice” beyond Facebook with the intention of raising funds for the IDF.
Michael has family roots in the U.S., Russia, and Israel. He is a business specialist and fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hebrew. He also speaks some Arabic. He plans to make Aliyah in 2016 with plans to promote Israel’s Voice mission statement, and with an ultimate goal of helping lone soldiers on a personal level.
Molly sees Israel as full of endless possibilities. She said, “From innovation to culture and food, it seems as though the people around me are always creating, always dreaming, always thinking ahead. This is why I live in Israel. It is my privilege to be a part of the Jewish people and to live in the Jewish Homeland, shaping and creating our future.”
Growing up in the U.S., Molly did not consider herself very Jewish, and she did not care about Israel. She liked Jewish holidays with food or presents, and she enjoyed Jewish summer camp and Shabbat sing alongs, but that was the extent of her Jewishness.
After visiting Israel on a Birthright trip, her life changed. Instead of feeling scared and anxious about being in Israel (like she expected to feel based on the awful images she had seen in the news), she was a new person. It was as though without her knowledge, something had been missing all her life, but she only discovered it at that moment, somewhere between the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.
Since then, she has had an uninterrupted love story with Israel. As with any relationship, there are challenges, but her passion to live in the Jewish state keeps her love strong. During difficult times, it is this love that helps her get through the day.
Ola was born in Russia in a secular family. Her family immigrated to the U.S., and this is where she grew up. She later married an Israeli and made Aliyah. Her two daughters are true Sabras.
When somebody comments “you stole Palestinian land, go back to Russia”, Ola always remembers her great grandparents who were buried alive by the Nazis during the WWII just for being Jewish. She has pledged that nothing of the sort will ever happen again, and for this reason, she is a devout Zionist.
Born in the U.S. in 1954, Paul grew up in a close-knit Jewish community. There was little information available about the Holocaust during his childhood, so he was 11 years old when he heard of it for the first time. His four grandparents were born in what is now the Ukraine, and they emigrated to the U.S. between 1905 and 1923. Relatives who stayed behind met a tragic end as the Jewish communities where his grandparents had lived were exterminated in 1941-1942.
Israel is an integral part of Paul’s attachment to Judaism. He has more than 40 Israeli cousins and many Israeli friends. He visited Israel three times, and he once performed a concert in Tel Aviv. In the mid-1970s he began to write articles and letters to the editor in defense of Israel. By the late 1980s his views evolved into a form of progressive Peace Zionism. He still writes defending Israel.
Music is another important aspect of Paul’s life. His musical involvement has taken many forms, including a music-mathematics degree, doctoral studies in music composition, playing piano in restaurants and nightclubs, performing contemporary music concerts, and presenting his own works at community events.
Paul has a severe stuttering disorder for which he pursued various therapies, and he encountered limited successes, but he eventually decided to accept himself as he is, a person who happens to stutter. This also led him into speech-language pathology, and years after his musical studies, he returned to graduate school for a Master’s program in that field.
In the year 2000, he met a Norwegian woman, and he moved to Norway where they married ten days later. His work in Norway is primarily in special-needs social services, with occasional public presentations of his musical works. He performs many of his compositions on YouTube, such as The Dark Path, which he wrote in memory of the Holocaust victims of Bergen, Norway.
Phil’s parents fled from Morocco due to anti-Semitism, and they immigrated to Canada where he was born. He lived in Israel for a while, and now he lives in the U.S. but he often travels to Israel. He is a lawyer and PhD candidate in International Relations and Political science. His research is on the Middle East and whether positive communication can foster peace between Israelis and Arabs.
Phil believes that dehumanizing propaganda, like BDS, fuels hatred and war. Accordingly, he has written articles criticizing BDS and profiling dissidents and Arab peace activists, to break barriers between Jews and Arabs. His articles often analyze the deeper psycho-social aspects of conflicts, such as “Pornography of Pain: Why the Heartbreaking Images Out of Gaza Are Hurting the Palestinians”. Phil is also a political commentator on Middle East and international politics, and he appears on various television shows such as the David Pakman Show and OANN’s On Point, including shows openly hostile to Israel such as Iran’s PressTV.
Rachel is a news editor and political analyst for JerusalemOnline, English website of Channel 2. She was born in Washington, DC. Growing up in the U.S., she felt very American and not different from others, but this changed in middle school when she was physically assaulted by two anti-Semitic girls at age 14; while her school punished the two girls, Rachel’s peers were silent. After this, she understood that she was different from other Americans, she saw the importance for Jewish people of having their own country, and she made Aliyah.
Despite all of the political problems that she sees in Israel with the terror attacks, non-stop wars, and the difficult diplomatic relations, Rachel feels that Israel will always be a safe haven for Jewish children who seek to explore their history, heritage, and faith in a supportive Jewish environment.
Rachel, who has a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University, dedicates her life to explaining Israel’s perspective to the world as well as standing up for human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, democracy, and freedom.
Robert is an activist, a cultural promoter, a theater manager, and the president of the Jewish Cultural Centre (JCC) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The JCC is an important cultural venue in Ljubljana; it organizes various events connected to Jewish culture, history, and art.
Robert sees culture as an instrument for creating tolerance, and he sees culture and art as prerequisites for progress as individuals and as a part of a community.
WWII represented a turning point for Slovenian Jews. Almost 90 percent of them died in concentration camps. Most of the Jews who survived World War II decided to emigrate, primarily to Israel. The Holocaust completely eradicated the Jewish community of Prekmurje and Gorizia.
Robert was born in the land of Carinthia, and his grandfather’s family originates from Austria. When he came to Ljubljana 30 years ago to study, he received a letter from the Jewish community of Slovenia telling him that he had Jewish roots in Slovenia. He did not believe it at first, especially that they called him Bartl instead of Waltl, but slowly over years, he discovered that the information in the letter was true.
When Robert visited Israel a few years ago, he was overtaken by a feeling of belonging when he went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. After his return to Slovenia, he started reading more about Judaism, he started to learn Hebrew, and he even started to wear the kippa at bigger events in order to raise awareness among fellow citizens about existence of Jews in Slovenia.
Sholom lives in the U.S., and he attended Jewish day schools throughout his childhood. He also lived and studied in Israel for over a year. More than half of his family perished in the Holocaust, and this has made an indelible mark on his life. It has driven him to love Israel unconditionally even when he criticizes some of her policies. For him, love of Israel goes beyond the tangible, beyond being a “safe haven”; it is the birthplace of his faith, his culture, and his people.
Sholom is a peace activist, with his main focus being on peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Last year during the latest war in Gaza, he started a peace movement called “Humans refusing to be enemies” with his best friend who is Palestinian, and they were interviewed by MSNBC and other media outlets. He believes that the key to peace is to break down the walls of fear and to destroy the stereotypes that exist on both sides.
Sian is British and was brought up in a very Zionist family that practiced liberal Judaism. Israel was a constant presence for her and her family. She lived in Israel from 1976 to 1979 on a kibbutz, and she joined the army. Back in England, she attended drama school in London, and she has been in musical theatre for the last 35 years in. After years of arguing with people about Zionism, she is now seriously considering making Aliyah.
Simon was born in Moldova (then Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia). He studied physics in Siberia then, at age 28, while married with two children, he made Aliyah, and he worked in software development, served in the army, and raised his children. Currently retired, he is mostly concerned with grandchildren, modern fiction, a moderate participation in social life on the Internet, and amateur photography.
On his mother’s side, his family was left-leaning, and one of his uncles even went to Spain to fight Franco. Another uncle, in his zeal to reach the “socialist heaven”, crossed the border from Romania to the Soviet Union in 1938 but was sent to prison camp in northern Russia for his troubles. He was released fifteen years later.
Simon’s extended family was partly removed to remote areas of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the WWII and partly murdered, some by the local citizens in their preparation to welcome the Nazi army and some by the Nazis.
Simon enthusiastically welcomed the Oslo accords, but he has since become skeptical about the possibility in the near future of peace between the Jews and the Arabs. While still hoping for some solution, Simon does not believe that the current leadership (on both sides of the conflict) has what it takes to support the tough decisions necessary for a compromise.
Stefan is Swedish. His mother was a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz-Birkenau. He now works with refugees and people traumatized by war, and he lectures on the topic of Holocaust and how we can apply our experiences from it on modern day refugees. He also writes a blog about these topics.
Suri is an orthodox Jew who is passionate about the Jewish people and its homeland, Israel. All of her grandparents survived the Holocaust and moved to the U.S. because they sought stability.
Suri and her husband do their best to instill a love for Torah and Israel in their children, but also a sense of “hakarat hatov” (gratitude) to the U.S. for enabling them to be who they are and practice Judaism freely and without fear.
Her husband serves in the U.S. military, and they see no contradiction between loyalty to the U.S. and to Israel since both countries stand for democracy, human rights, freedom, and equal opportunity for all citizens.
Suri is proud to be Jewish, proud to be American, and proud of her homeland, Israel. She has family and friends in Israel, and she hopes that she will one day be able to make Aliyah.
Vivian was born in Morocco in 1961, and later that year, her family made Aliyah. They first lived in a tent camp with other immigrants from Morocco, Romania, India, Iran and North Africa. There was no electricity or water, and her parents worked in road construction and other similarly hard jobs.
Vivian, who has five siblings, completed 12 years of school then joined the IDF for two years of service. She is now married to a Jew from Iraq whose family made Aliyah in 1951, and she has one daughter who is a medical student.
Vivian works as a medical secretary. She, her brothers, her husband, and her daughter all served in the IDF. Her nephew was killed at age 24 by a Hezbollah attack in 2006 on the first day of the second Lebanon war.
Wendy grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in the U.S., and she is now a writer in Philadelphia. Her immediate family escaped Europe before the Holocaust, but like many Jews, they have old photo albums filled with pictures of nameless relatives who did not.
Wendy’s parents always supported Israel, but she did not feel a strong connection to Zionism until two summers ago. That summer, Wendy’s daughter went on a teen tour to Israel just as the conflict began with Gaza, and she spent five weeks trying to avoid rockets. Her daughter never saw Tel Aviv, but in the north, far from Gaza and the West Bank, one evening when she was outside, the sirens sounded and three rockets from Lebanon nearly killed her.
Wendy’s daughter returned a fervent Zionist, and she is considering joining the IDF. Wendy too gained new respect for Israel and will be forever grateful for the Iron Dome and the unity of the Israeli people that kept her daughter safe. Wendy will send her son on the same tour. She wrote about the experience in Broad Street Review.
Yael is an American of French descent. She considers her father and grandfather to be self-hating anti-Semitic Jews, so Yael feels the responsibility to carry the torch of Zionism in her family. She is proud to be a Jew and that is why she has dedicated her life to being a Judaic Studies academic.
Yael wants to make a contribution to the world by delivering on the traditional Jewish promise of being a light unto the nations. She strongly believes that this is what Jews are meant to do.
Yoni was born in Israel to parents who came from Yemen. After her parents married, they desperately wanted to make Aliyah. They escaped Yemen with two small children, a few belongings, and jewelry to pay off smugglers. They walked for two weeks until they reached the airport, where they took a plane to the Holy Land.
When her patents arrived in Israel, they lived in tents and worked in tomato fields. Their first home was small but full of love songs and laughter. Her parents taught Yoni and her siblings to have faith in God, education, and hard work.
Zed was born into a Jewish family in former USSR. His family was observant on his father’s side but not on his mother’s side. As a child he was a victim of physical and emotional abuse for being a Jew, and anti-Semitism forced his family to leave the USSR. In his new country, he went to an Orthodox Jewish school, and he came out of it an atheist who respects Jewish traditions and customs.
Zed now has two sons for whom he plans to have Orthodox Bar Mitzvahs. He believes that being Jewish is not about religion for personal benefit but about belonging to a tribe and about love of the Jewish ancestral home, Israel. Zed supports the two-state concept, but he is open to anything that would improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. He says that if he lived in Israel, he would be a right-wing voter.
Note on November 8, 2015: Added profiles of Binyamin Arazi, Fiona, and Michael Mendelson.