Visitors to the OU Israel Center in Yerushalayim had a chance to see Nachum Segal at work on December 9. Segal is host of the New York area’s popular morning drive time radio program JM in the AM. Segal is visiting Israel this week and the OU Israel Center was his first stop.
This was a chance to hear – and see – the people behind the myriad OU Israel programs.
First up was Rabbi Avi Berman, Executive Director of OU Israel since 2006. He introduced the scope of OU Israel programs.
“Today we have different clubs from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Dimona in the south,” he said. “OU Israel is helping change the face of cities all over Israel.”
Yirmi Elkus is a volunteer with the Jack E. Gindi Oraita Clubs. He volunteers one night every week with Oraita in Ariel.
Oraita is both a safe hangout for teens and a study hall for Jewish values. Their clubs are distinguished by having both pool tables and a beit midrash.
“We work with kids who are looking for guidance,” he says. “Often they have been in trouble. We inspire them and in time see totally different people,” he says.
Gavriel Kalish who grew up in the Jerusalem suburbs went to The Pearl and Harold Jacobs Outreach Zula Center in downtown Jerusalem when he was in high school. At the time The Zula was little more than 5 kids and a guitar.
Today they have a staff of more than 20 and work with an estimated 3,000 kids annually. About 100-150 drop in on Saturday nights when The Zula is open from midnight to close to dawn.
Kalish explained that The Zula (which is slang for “a place to hang out”) aims to “get the kids to believe in themselves.” These are religious kids between the ages of 12-24 who might otherwise “fall between the cracks.”
“We try to give all the kids what they need,” Kalish says. “Our goal is to look at their neshama (soul) and love them.”
Rivka Segal is Director of Programs at the OU Israel Center. This means she has several balls to juggle simultaneously.
“My work includes the L’ayla Women’s Initiative which attracts women from the Jerusalem area.” They come for shiurim at the OU Israel Center on Sundays, Wednesday and Thursdays. “The program started with just a few women and now we have more than 100 women. It has become a real network.”
In addition to shiurim for both men and women with some of the “heavy hitters” in the Torah world, she also organizes the OU Israel Travel Desk which offers quality trips all over the country. Current offerings: Women’s Winter Getaway, December 16-17 with Mrs. Shira Smiles, a noted educator and L’ayla lecturer and a winter vacation in Eilat, January 19-23, 2014. Information: +972-2-560-9110.
Hillel Sheinfeld sends his children to Camp Dror, the sleep away summer camp in Israel’s north.
“The idea behind Camp Dror is to have an American style camp in Israel. I wanted my kids to have the same opportunity to forge friendships that I had when I was growing up. The big difference is that they’re doing it in the Galilee and the Golan Heights.”
Camp Dror started 13 years ago. Most of the participants are English speaking teens who live in Israel. But there are also kids who come from the US and other countries.
Phil Chernofsky is the Educational Director of the OU Israel Center, a position he has held for more than 30 years. He is best known for Torah Tidbits, the largest English language Torah publication in Israel. An estimated 10,000 printed copies are distributed weekly. It is also available online. Chernofsky also hosts a weekly Torah Tidbits Audio program weekly.
“Torah Tidbits is a work in progress,” he says. “We try to mix it up a bit and offer something for everyone.” “We started with a one page sheet that went in 60 copies to two shuls in Jerusalem,” he says. Today’s Torah Tidbits is in color and has at least 64 pages.
Rabbi Moshe Benovitz is director of NCSY Summer Programs. This means he is responsible for 12 unique programs in the US, Israel and Europe.
“NCSY is about to turn 60,” he says. “We offer great summer programs with proper supervision,” he says. “Both the OU and NCSY take these programs very seriously.”
Information about all 12 programs is available at summer.ncsy.org “Some of the programs are already filling up,” Benovitz says. Two of his flagship programs are the NCSY Summer Kollel for boys and Michlelet for girls.
Segal asked why kids who go to day schools would come to Israel to learn for the summer.
“It’s not all learning,” Benovitz says. “They also have fun and see the country. We understand the camp mentality. What they experience is a camp where the background is learning,” he says. “And there are no tests.
Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski is the Rabbinic Administrator for OU Kosher in Israel which “started off over 40 years ago,” he says. “Originally it was to help companies that wanted to export to the US.” Now that there are more olim from North America and more companies wanting to export, Krakowski says he’s busier than ever.
OU Kosher recently published the OU Kosher Israel Guide which is available online.
Yoel Sterman who is Director of Yachad Israel, was the first person to run in the Jerusalem Marathon with a goat. “I found the goat during last year’s Marathon and didn’t want to leave it,” he says. “We both made it to the finish line.”
On the more serious side, Yachad Israel is a year old and expanding. “Our programming is in English,” he says, “and we have a lot of great volunteers.” This includes students who are here for the year as well as people living in Israel.
Yachad Israel sponsors Shabbatonim in different locations around the country. They also have a team running in the Jerusalem Marathon. For information about participating or sponsoring a runner – and sponsoring Yachad Israel activities: http://www.yachadisrael.com/
“No goats allowed,” Sterman says.
Yael Tamari, a social worker and tour guide, has been working with OU Israel Free Spirit/Birthright.
“We sponsor about 60 trips a year,” she says. “We’re known for our “niche” trips and extensions which let participants stay in Israel longer if they want,” she says.
What are “niche” trips? Free Spirit has had groups for theater people, business people, and in the summer they are sponsoring a trip that will be led by Alan Veingrad, a former offensive lineman who played for the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys when they won Super Bowl XXVII.
“We’ll do almost anything to get more Jews to come to Israel,” she says with a smile.