Author: Hadas Sparfeld

The Times of Israel: Why we set up the Israeli-American Council

Source: The Times Of Israel

In 2006, during the Second Lebanese War, Ehud Danoch, Israeli Consul General of Los Angeles at that time, was organizing a support rally for the State of Israel. He confirmed the attendance of political leaders, such as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and he reached out and invited the close to 700,000 local Jewish and Israeli community members.

Ehud was deeply disappointed that only a few thousand Jews showed up at the rally and even more frustrated that despite the approximately 200,000 Israeli’s living in Los Angeles, only a handful of Israeli’s showed up to support the State of Israel.

The Israeli community in Los Angeles, which was the largest “settled” (not “sitting on their suitcases”) Israeli community in the US, was absent. It wasn’t that they didn’t support the State of Israel, but there were no lines of communication to reach or rally them.

Ehud knew something dramatic had to be done so he approached about ten local successful, philanthropic Israeli business people that were already involved in the Jewish and Israeli community. He challenged them to establish an umbrella organization that would unite and empower the local Israeli community to support the State of Israel and get involved in pro-Israel advocacy.

Many similar efforts in the past had been made to create a united community. Those mostly volunteer organizations failed because of the constant need to raise funds. Nevertheless, this new effort by Ehud Danoch was substantially different. He approached business people that were willing and able to put in their own time, money and contacts to create and support this vision. Also, the fact that the State of Israel, through its consul general of Los Angeles, was behind this campaign, made a huge difference.

As a founding board member, I, along with the selected others, accepted the challenge and embarked on an historical journey of galvanizing an Israeli community in Los Angeles which would later expand to the establishment of the Israeli-American Community in the United States. Just like the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, we followed the biblical “Naaseh V’Nishma” declaration and decided to ‘act first, deliberate later’. We put up our own money, rolled up our sleeves and immediately started a comprehensive community-building action plan that was improved, adjusted and expanded along the way.

Originally called the Israeli Leadership Council (“ILC”), the mission of our new organization was to build an active and giving Israeli community in order to strengthen the State of Israel, to ensure the Jewish Identity of our children, and to provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community.

The ILC’s action plan was based on reaching hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in Southern California by sponsoring existing – and building new – educational, advocacy, leadership and cultural events for every age group and for the community as a whole. We sponsored grassroots local Israeli organizations that promoted the Hebrew language, our Israeli heritage and our Jewish values. And, wherever there was a gap, we created our own projects and programs.

For young children, we established Sifriyat Pijama B’America – a program providing free Hebrew children’s books, promoting Jewish values. The program started, three years ago, with 1,000 families and now reaches 10,000 families (more than 50,000 Israelis) in the United States every month. For students in non-Jewish schools, we funded after-hours Hebrew language learning. For high school, we supported existing Tzofim & B’nai Akiva activities and established new Tzofim tribes. For students in American universities, advocacy and leadership programs such as Shagririm and Mishelanu. For young adults, we created BINA, a community of intellectual young Israelis and Jewish Americans connecting through ideas, business networks, and cultural activities. For mature Israeli adults, we sponsored Moadon Israelim, which organized cultural, musical and theatrical.

As for community wide events, we sponsored a concert for Sederot featuring Ninet Tiab and students from Sederot that raised $300,000 for their smart classrooms. We annually produce the Israeli Independence Day Festival that brings 15,000-20,000 people to celebrate Israel. We put together a musical concert with Matisyahu and Moshe Peretz to promote giving and community volunteering. In 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, our Tzav 8 contact list was able to rally thousands of local Israelis to show up and support the State of Israel.

Initially, funding came solely from our members and the Board. Later, we began to receive significant support and donations from highly influential Israeli and Jewish philanthropists, including Haim and Cheryl Saban, Sheldon and Miri Adelson, Beny and Adele Alagem, Leo and Ruth David and David Wiener. Over the years, many of our Board Members have increased their annual donations to six figures.

As we grew and expanded, it became very clear, that while the members of our Israeli Leadership Council felt 100% Israeli, no one else recognized us as such. The State of Israel labeled us as Yordim. Americans saw us as U.S. citizens and our children definitely didn’t want to be perceived as kids of foreigners. Personally, when we wanted to give money to support pro-Israeli politicians and we introduced ourselves as Israelis, they would respond by saying, ‘We can’t take money from Israelis! You are foreigners!’ At that point we realized we needed to be identified as “Americans” if we wanted to have a voice in the American political arena.

Our identity was defining itself as Israeli-Americans, or Americans of Israeli descent. In early 2012 the ILC changed its name to the Israeli-American Council, the “IAC”. Once we changed our name and established ourselves as an American organization, both the Jewish-American community and the State of Israel realized our potential and began to see us as their strategic asset.

In the past 30 years, the population of Israeli-Americans reached an estimated 500,000-800,000. The majority of them do not affiliate with Jewish life or play a role in the active pro-Israel community. Due to the fact they are mostly secular, they experience the same high rate of assimilation as the Jewish community in America.

However, the fact will always remain, Israeli-Americans not only love Israel, they accept Israel without conditions. Add that fact to their understanding of the Middle East “Bad Neighborhood”, and you have a passion and comprehension that is unparalleled.

Until very recently, the State of Israel and the American Jewish Community had not recognized the historical significance of reaching and connecting with these unaffiliated Israeli-Americans in order to utilize their substantial power and voice.

Today, the significant mission of the Israeli-American Council is to recognize, reach and empower this UNTAPPED STRATEGIC ASSET, the Israeli-American community. We are expanding nationwide in order to grow and develop a generous, active and influential Israeli-American Community, thereby ensuring the Jewish identity of our future generations and strengthen the State of Israel.

At a time when Jewish unity is more critical than ever, the recognition by the State of Israel and the inclusion of Israeli-Americans in the American Jewish Community is vital.

Israeli Leadership Council Changes Name

Source: Jewish Journal

When the chief executive officer of the Israeli Leadership Council announced at the group’s March 10 gala that the nonprofit’s name is changing to the Israeli American Council (IAC), the reaction from the 900 people in attendance was modest. As animations of the group’s new logo flashed on screens around the Beverly Hilton ballroom, polite applause briefly drowned out the clink of silverware against plates.

But for the leadership of the ILC — now the IAC — the message embodied in the new name is significant, signaling the group’s increased comfort with its dual Israeli-American identity.

“We felt that the name ‘Israeli Leadership Council’ did not reflect what we’re doing today,” said Adam Milstein, an IAC board member.

Founded in 2007 as the Israeli Leadership Club by a group of local Israeli-American businessmen who joined forces to ensure they could mobilize their community in support of the Jewish state in times of crisis, the organization has since grown into a nonprofit with a $3 million annual budget.

Its mission is threefold — supporting Israel, strengthening Jewish identity among young Israeli-Americans and building connections between the Israeli-American and Jewish-American communities. To that end, the IAC supports more than a dozen different projects and organizations.

Adam Milstein first suggested to the board that the group change its basic brand, from “Israeli” to “Israeli-American,” about 18 months ago. Eli Tene, then the group’s co-chair and currently a member of its seven-person board, remembers reacting skeptically. “Why change something that’s working?” Tene remembers thinking, he said in an interview Sunday.

Success, indeed, is not at issue: In 2012, the organization reached about 50,000 people, up from 3,500 during 2010. Most of that growth can be attributed to two major projects: Taking charge of the citywide Celebrate Israel Festival last year, which drew 15,000 attendees to Rancho Park in May, and, secondly, helping to found Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which distributed free Hebrew children’s books to 2,000 families across the country in 2012, reaching an estimated 17,000 people. Both of those programs are projected to expand in 2013.

Still, Milstein was undeterred, and he lobbied his fellow board members in support of the name change. His argument was twofold: By defining themselves as Israelis, Milstein said, the current generation of immigrants are separating themselves from their American children, who “want to be like anybody else.”

Milstein also said he had come to realize that he could do more on behalf of the Jewish state, where he was born, by embracing his identity as an American citizen. “Nobody around us looked at us as Israelis, and we were defeating ourselves because we were not recognizing who we are,” he said.

A real estate investor who has lived in the United States since 1981 and been an American citizen since 1986, Adam Milstein is one of the country’s top donors to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). When he has lobbied American and foreign officials on behalf of Israel, Milstein said he began to notice a subtle discomfort when he said he was “from Israel.”

“Nobody said it,” Milstein said, “but I would see it in their faces.”

If the old ILC logo — three white letters on a blue shield, flanked by gold olive branches — subtly suggested that the group was an arm of Israel’s foreign ministry, then the new IAC logo — a Star of David half-enveloped by red and white stripes — has far more in common with that of America’s pro-Israel groups.

Now, the IAC is pushing Israeli-Americans to get involved in local Jewish communities in the diaspora, as well as in Israel advocacy. IAC chair Shawn Evenhaim spoke about connecting Israeli-Americans to their Jewish-American counterparts at the Jewish Federations of North America’s 2012 General Assembly. Milstein addressed the importance of Israel advocacy at an IAC-organized panel discussion at AIPAC’s policy conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. He forcefully rejected the idea that Israeli-Americans have already “paid their dues” to Israel by serving in the IDF.

“This is your miluim service,” Milstein said in an interview in his office in Encino just a few days after the panel, referring to the month-long reserve duty all Israeli men are required to perform, over and above their required full-time military service. “This is how you support Israel.”

Boosting Israeli-Americans’ support for Israel is one key aspect of the IAC’s mission, and political leaders from all levels of government and from across the political spectrum attended Sunday’s gala.

Longtime Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) was there, as was the newly elected Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-San Fernando Valley). The two candidates who advanced to a May runoff for Los Angeles mayor, City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti, were also present, and Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles, David Siegel, read a letter from Bibi Netanyahu, thanking the IAC for strengthening the ties of Israeli-Americans to Israel.

The gala’s honorees included businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison, whose company owns a large interest in Carnival Cruise Lines and a controlling stake in Bank Hapoalim, and Daniel Gold, who developed Israel’s Iron Dome’s missile defense system (see related story, p. 27). Hotel magnate and political mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Ochshorn Adelson, also received an award at the gala.

Despite the absence of a few of the group’s biggest supporters — including Haim Saban, who was away on business — the IAC raised an estimated about $2 million on Sunday.

AISH: Reaching Israelis In America – Adam Milstein Is Using Hebrew To Stem The Tide Of Assimilation Amongst Israelis Living In America

Source: AISH

Adam and Gila Milstein initially moved to the United States from Israel with their two youngest daughters over 30 years ago. Their plan was to stay for a couple of years to allow Adam to complete his Master’s in Business Administration at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. When he graduated he started working to pay off his college loans and before they knew it 20 years had passed and they never came back to Israel.

The Milsteins joined what Israelis call the “yerida” or descent (the opposite ofaliyah or ascent – i.e. moving to Israel). Adam ended up going into commercial real estate and after a successful career, he and his wife became involved in philanthropic work to help the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Although both their daughters attended Jewish day schools for elementary school, there weren’t many choices when it came to finding a non-denominational Jewish high school. The Milsteins therefore ended up sending their daughters to a secular private school in the Valley. Although they were happy with the education, they were disappointed to notice that most of their daughter’s friends were non-Jewish – although it was to be expected considering that only a small portion of their classmates were Jewish. However, when their daughters started dating non-Jewish boys, the Milsteins began to get uncomfortable.

When Adam told his daughters that they needed to marry Jewish, their response was an emphatic, “Why?”


“I didn’t have a good answer for them,” he recalled. “They pointed out that I myself lived a totally secular life. Why should they do otherwise?”

Marrying Jewish didn’t fit into their secular values with which they had raised their children up until that point.

Adam realized that it was time to discover why preserving his Jewish heritage was so important to him and his family. He started attending Aish LA events in 2002 and began learning regularly with Aish HaTorah’s Rabbi Dov Heller.

An Epidemic

As he learned more about Judaism and his Jewish pride increased, he became more and more aware that assimilation among Israeli-Americans was becoming a major epidemic. There are an estimated 700,000 to 900,000 Israelis living in the United States. Since the majority come from secular families, they often lack the ability to pass on Jewish tradition to their children once outside of the land of Israel. According to Milstein, this results in intermarriage and assimilation rates that are much higher as those of American Jews.

“The parents feel they’re Jewish even though they are completely disconnected from Jewish observance and community simply because they are Israeli,” he explained. “Their kids, on the other hand, don’t want to be Israelis or immigrants. They want to assimilate into American culture and get as far away from their ‘foreign’ roots as possible. American Jews already have an infrastructure to pass Judaism on to their children. Israelis have nothing. They rarely belong to any synagogues because it costs a substantial amount of money to become members. How will their kids stay Jewish? Kids need Jewish life or Jewish education otherwise they will assimilate more rapidly.”

In many parts of Israel these problem exists as well, albeit to a lesser degree. “Kids don’t have the same Jewish connections nowadays,” Milstein continued. “In my time everyone served in the Israeli army and we understood the importance of a Jewish State. Today, an unprecedented portion of Israeli youth in large metropolitan areas such as Tel Aviv tries to avoid the draft.”

Nonetheless, outside of Israel, Israelis are particularly vulnerable to assimilation, unprepared for life in the Diaspora. “Expatriate Israelis keep thinking they are going back to Israel someday,” Milstein explained. “They have to realize that they are here for good. As the saying goes, they’re sitting on their suitcases. They don’t realize that they are actually sitting on a time bomb.”

The Mother Tongue

As part of a solution, the Milsteins founded Sifriyat Pijama B’America (SP-BA). Inspired by PJ Library and its Israeli counterpart Sifriyat Pijama, SP-BA provides an opportunity for young Jewish children living in the United States, ages three to six, to receive quality Jewish storybooks in Hebrew each month – for free.


Each year, nine children’s books are chosen by the Israel Ministry of Education and a committee of experts in early childhood and Jewish education in addition to a music CD or DVD. The curriculum is composed of popular storybooks by Jewish authors in Israel and the U.S. that teach Jewish values on a universal level – to which children everywhere can relate. Book titles include “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat,” “King Solomon and the Bee,” “Old Hillel’s Patience,” and other classic stories. Messages range from satisfaction with one’s lot, appreciating all of God’s creatures, discovering one’s inner beauty, and overcoming negative impulses. Each book or CD is accompanied by a guide to help parents further engage their children through activities and discussions.

“In a world where everything is TV, I-Pad, and computers, books are more important than ever,” Sharon B., a single Israeli mother living in L.A., said. “Not only are they free, but they are the right books with the right values.” She insists that her children speak Hebrew at home, yet getting Hebrew books was always a challenge. “Hebrew is my language. I don’t want my children to lose their roots. They have to eat, sleep, bathe, and speak Hebrew!” she said. Finding out about SP-BA was welcomed news.

Naomi W. came to the U.S. on vacation 14 years ago, met her husband and stayed. She is thrilled to finally have quality Hebrew books to read with her children – who speak Hebrew to her in the home, even though her husband is American. “They’re classics – books I grew up reading,” she said. “They’re beautiful, cute, and the kids love them!” Although they sent all their children to a Hebrew speaking pre-school, when it came time for elementary school they were unable to afford a Jewish day school. “It’s always a struggle to keep your children connected to Israel and Jewish life,” she recalled. “When our children went on to public school, they lost their Hebrew.”

Continued Jewish Education

In addition to fostering a strong Jewish identity and an appreciation for Jewish values and culture among the new generation and encouraging the use of Hebrew as the official language of the Jewish People in Israel and the Diaspora, the mission statement of SP-BA is also to encourage unaffiliated Israeli-American families to get involved in Jewish education.


“We are trying to reach out to Israelis and embrace them and bring them back to Jewish life, Jewish education and the Jewish people. Otherwise they might be lost completely,” Milstein said. “This process doesn’t just happen through listening to bedtime stories in Hebrew. We hope that once they read the books to their children, it will create an appetite for more Jewish life. What we are truly seeking to do is to build communities with Jewish day schools as their focal point and help Israeli-Americans – especially those who are unaffiliated with Jewish institutions – to connect with Jewish life and Jewish education.”

This year, parents will be invited to enroll in SP-BA for free through a local Jewish day school with the goal of bringing unaffiliated Israeli-Americans who are often not connected to the mainstream Jewish community into the Jewish day school system, thereby strengthening local Jewish communities across the country. By establishing relationships with 30 affiliated Jewish day schools – in Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey, the Bay Area, San Diego, Chicago, Washington DC, Phoenix, Denver, and other cities across the U.S. – families who otherwise haven’t become a part of the local day school community will feel welcome attending Jewish community events in the schools in the future. SP-BA organizes monthly or bi-monthly group reading events, costume parties, and plays to bring participating and new families together and to bring the books to life. Children need not be enrolled in an affiliated school to participate in SP-BA, but the registration events are an important first step in greater involvement in the local Israeli-American and Jewish communities.

In this sense, SP-BA is an amalgamation between the PJ Library — which mails books directly to the homes of almost 100,000 North American children ages 6 months to 8 years — and the four-year-old Israeli spinoff, Sifriyat Pijama which, in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Education, distributes books to 120,000 children through local schools and anticipates increasing the number of children to 200,000 next year.

“Amazingly the program in Israel is extremely popular notwithstanding the fact that Hebrew books are not in shortage there,” Milstein said.

SP-BA was quickly adopted by the Israeli-American Leadership Council (ILC), a nonprofit working to build an active Israeli-American community and to ensure the Jewish identity of the next generation, strengthen the State of Israel and provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community, in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Avi-Chai Foundation, in addition of course to the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.

The Birth of a Movement

“The number of participants in Sifriyat Pijama B’America is growing exponentially,” Milstein said. “When we started out last year, we had a goal of reaching 1,000 families. A few weeks later, we already had 2,000 families receiving books on a monthly basis with close to a thousand on our waiting list. We are thrilled to have secured funding to be able to expand to reach an additional 4,000 families this year.”

He stresses that the goal is not that participants should become religious per se. “I’m not telling you what kind of Jewish life to keep as long as you’re a part of the Jewish people. Secular in Israel is still Jewish. Secular in America is nothing.”

Additionally, he feels that if united, the Israeli-American community could become a powerful movement. “We can’t count on Europe anymore for support. It will be a majority Muslim by 2050. The only country in the world that supports Israel is the U.S. mainly because of the strong Jewish lobby. Let’s transform the Israeli community into a powerful, productive force to support Israel.”

Today, the Milstein’s two oldest daughters are married to Jews. Their third daughter, who was born in the US, is a pro-Israel activist and serves as the New England campus coordinator of Hasbara Fellowships. Adam and Gila prefer not to imagine what would have been had they not gotten involved in Jewish education, community, and lifestyle. Now, they are passing the chain down to the next generations.


Jewish Journal: Ahad Ha’am 2.0: Hebrew Literacy for Israelis in America

by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein Source: Jewish Journal

Ahad Ha’am, a great Zionist thinker and icon, knew that one of the keys to creating a thriving Jewish culture in Palestine, and among assimilating Jews in Europe, was reviving the ancient Hebrew language. While Hebrew had been relegated to books of law and philosophy for centuries, Ahad Ha’am and his contemporaries wiped away the dust, and revived the spoken language, creating a modern Hebrew culture.

More than 100 year’s later Hebrew is again at the center of cultural transformation, with a novel program bringing Hebrew into Jewish homes—again.

Can a bunch of free Hebrew children’s books preventing Israelis from disappearing into the melting pot of American culture? A pioneering program is being launched nationwide seeking to do just that.

While America has been a land of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, it is also a place for where many lose their connections to the Jewish community. Sifriyat Pijama B’America, or the Pijama Library in America, is seeking to reunite Israelis and Jewish and Israeli-American culture.

The project is the brainchild of Adam and Gila Milstein, leaders in the Israeli American community in Los Angeles. “There are hundreds of thousands of Israeli families nationwide,” said Milstein,  “who are not affiliated.”  And that trend has him very worried about the future of the Israeli Jews in America.

Sifriyat Pijama B’America is a Hebrew language spin-off of a large and popular program called PJ Library, which sends thousands of Jewish-themed books for free into homes. The Hebrew sister project launched in 2011 and within weeks, 2,000 families signed up to receive monthly Hebrew language children’s books that they can read to their children. The program was off to an amazing start. The organizers realized that just sending books was not enough, and looked for ways to make the program even more effective.

This summer, Sifriyat Pijama B’America is also launching a Jewish day school initiative, tying the book program to Jewish day schools in a novel way. The program brings participating families to register for the free program at local Jewish day schools around the country. By bringing the families to Jewish day schools, the organizers, Adam and Gila Milstein, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Avi Chai Foundation and The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, hope that these families will end up becoming more involved in Jewish education.

“The goal,” said Adam Milstein, Sifriyat Pijama B’America’s founder and champion, “is to get unaffiliated Israeli families more connected to Jewish education and life, and hopefully increase enrollment at Jewish day schools.”

It’s estimated that up to 1 million Israelis have immigrated to the United States since 1948. Their children tend to assimilate quickly, attend public schools, and maintain a highly secular Jewish lifestyle. But as Milstein points out, “being secular in America means assimilating and disappearing at a faster rate.”

Sharon Barkan, a Hebrew teacher in Los Angeles, has enjoyed the books and feels it’s an important part of raising her Israeli-American children. “For me words are the strongest thing there is,” said Barkan, “these books are the connection my daughter now has to the Hebrew language.” Reading the books with her kids has been, “a wonderful experience. And the beginning of each book has information and activities that we do with the kids.”

The books chosen seem to resonate with their audience, “My daughter,’ said Barkan, “likes to speak about the characters in the books – they are very compelling.”

Milstein’s main concern are children. “Many families are clearly not affiliated and connecting with Jewish education. And the victims are the kids, because the kids have no connection to Jewish life and Israel. That is why so important to bring into Jewish life and learning to them.”

Registration is now open at 28 schools nationwide and online and can accommodate 6,000 families. The organizers hope that up to 50,000 people will be reached in this current year of the program. When families register, they have two year’s of free books.

The books are chosen by a committee made up of representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Education, early childhood educators and psychologists to promote Jewish values. Each book contains instructions to the parents to help them teach the values that each book promotes. While the books are not religious in nature they contain Jewish themes and characters.

“It is much easier for Israel’s to become unaffiliated from the Jewish community, than maintain a connection,” said Milstein, “but we hope that through Jewish education, getting families active in passing on Jewish values and Hebrew language, that we can create a thriving and connected community of the future.”

I am sure that in heaven Ahad Ha’am is smiling.

SP-BA: Keeping Israelis Jewish by Meredith Jacobs of the Washington Jewish Week

Two area day schools are the local hosts for an innovative new family program aimed at connecting Israeli families living in the U.S. to the American Jewish community.

Sifryat Pijama B’America is the brainchild of L.A. businessman and philanthropist, Adam Milstein. Based on the PJ Library program, modern Israeli children’s books, published in Hebrew, are distributed free to area families during monthly programs at 30 day schools across the country. Locally, Gesher Day School in Fairfax and the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital are Sifryat Pijama B’America sites. Milstein came to America from Israel when his daughters were young. Milstein and his wife joined a synagogue and enrolled their daughters in a private secular school. By junior and senior year of high school, Milstein realized that his daughters’ friends (and boyfriends) were not Jewish. “When we told them they had to date and marry Jewish men they said, ‘Why should we? If it’s so important to you, why don’t you live a Jewish lifestyle? Go to Temple? Keep
Shabbat?’” Milstein said.

He realized he had made a mistake. He started studying with Aish HaTorah and sent his daughters to Israel. One enlisted with the Israeli army. The other traveled with Birthright. Now they are both married to Jewish boys and the Milsteins have three grandchildren. “They say it wasn’t because of me, but the facts speak for themselves,” he said.

Milstein believes his story is not unique to other Israeli families who immigrate to the States. He believes that the children of Israeli immigrants assimilate faster to American culture than do the children of American Jewish families. He says these American Israeli families believe it’s enough that, “We are Israeli, our children are Israeli, their grandparents are Israeli. They go to Israel in the summer, but that’s a vacation.”

When philanthropist Harold Grinspoon successfully expanded his PJ Library program to Israel, Milstein contacted him to create a variation for Israeli and non-Israeli Hebrew speaking families in the U.S. PJ Library, Grinspoon’s first program, ships high quality children’s books to homes with young children. The books all have some sort of Judaic content, be it holiday and tradition or ethics and values. To register, a family must have young children and live in a community that sponsors a PJ Library. The program is funded in part by the Grinspoon Foundation and in part by the sponsoring community. According to the PJ Library website, they have 153,618 subscriptions.

In Israel, the Grinspoon Foundation has partnered with the Ministry of Education for the Sifryat Pijama program. Here modern Israeli childrens books are selected by the Israeli Ministry and are distributed through the children’s schools. Three years into the program, Sifryat Pijama is distributing books to approximately 120,000 children and Milstein estimates it will reach 200,000 next year.

“Now comes us. We know Harold Grinspoon. We put one and one together,” he continued. “There is a large Israeli community here. But the community tends to be unaffiliated. They send kids to public schools. When you send your kids to public schools, they aren’t taught Jewish values. And the kids don’t want to be different. They want to be American. And they tend to assimilate even faster than American Jewish children. We have a tremendous problem.”

Which is why Sifryat Pijama B’America books are distributed to families during programs at area day schools. The program is sponsored by the Israeli Leadership Council, the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. It is not part of PJ Library.

While the books help parents maintain Hebrew at home, the programs give the families a sense of Jewish culture and a chance to connect with other Jewish and Israeli families.

“We are taking an active approach to helping families get involved in Jewish life. In order to get books for free, they need to go to registration events at day schools. They don’t need to enroll, they don’t need to be students, but they need to go there to sign up and go for special events,” Milstein explained.

The events have started. “It’s not going to be easy to bring the Israelis into the schools for the events,” he said. “They don’t understand the issue. They don’t understand that their children are going to assimilate. Their goal is to make it in America. They are working very hard. They don’t realize the mistake they are making by not connecting their children Jewishly.”

Eyal Leib, operations manager for Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, agrees with Milstein and believes it’s even more complicated. He explains that it’s different in Israel. Because of the influence of the religious groups on the Israeli government, there is a negative connotation for secular Israelis when they think about religion. Non-Orthodox families may not join a synagogue. “It took me awhile before I admitted to my friends that I work in a synagogue,” said Leib. There’s also a question of money. Leib believes that many Israeli parents may think that if there is an excellent public school available, there is no need to pay for a private day school. “The parents can provide the Hebrew learning and the Jewish holidays. I can’t speak for all of the parents, but some parents think day school is a lot of tefillot [praying] and they don’t want that. But this is because they
don’t know the curriculum,” he said.

Leib, who lives in Princeton, N.J., with his Israeli-born wife and two young children, has taught at a day school in Boston and was a basketball coach and substitute teacher at Rockville’s Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. In addition to speaking only Hebrew at home, he reads Hebrew children’s books to his son Adam, 5 and daughter Lauren, 2 as a way to increase their vocabulary. And, when it comes to holidays and traditions, he preaches what he practices. “This week, it was Shavuot. I talked to Adam all week about the holiday. But we didn’t go to synagogue because that’s not what I do. But on Yom Kippur I will fast and I expect my kids to fast. It’s very complicated. I can’t answer for all Israelis, but I can answer for myself and for what I observe with my friends,” he said.

Graciela Granek, who is also Israeli, is the Hebrew director and Judaic studies supervisor for Gesher Day School. “Many Israeli families don’t think about Jewish education in the states. Israeli society is very cosmopolitan and for many Israelis, when they move to the states, they want their kids to learn about American culture,” she explained.

Regarding day school education, “Many of them come with their own belief or perceptions of Jewish life in Israel and have a feeling that Jewish day school may reflect the haredi situation or the day schools in Israel, and that’s not it. We have a full array of day school settings. Many [of the families] don’t know about it and don’t seek this information or consider when they select where to live or how to educate their kids. So Adam [Milstein] is right. If we can get Israeli families to see what day schools are like here, many may actually choose a day school education for their children.”

Granek’s next program is on June 24th. Her first program attracted 16 families. She tried to create an Israeli environment, serving Israeli snacks and drinks and playing Israeli children’s music. During the program, she read a Sifryat Pijama story book and led the families in an activities related to the story. She also hopes the programs will help foster community among Israeli families and non-Israeli families with extensive knowledge of Israel and be the catalyst for an extended group to play and speak.

“We’re very excited to have this program,” Granek said of her school’s involvement. “I embrace the opportunity. It’s important for us for people to see Gesher as a center of activity and a place that promotes a lot of Hebrew.”

Sifryat Pijama B’America’s first year goal of 1,000 was surpassed almost immediately with 2,500 online registrations. For this year, Milstein has increased inventory to 6,000.

Quality Hebrew language children’s books are hard to find in the U.S. “You can’t just walk into a Barnes & Noble. You have to go to a website and then you can’t really see them,” Naomi Reem, head of school for JPDS-NC, explained. “A religious bookstore is not where Israelis would walk in to buy a book and these stores would not have a collection of modern Israeli books for children. They would have religious books.”

She notes that these are quality Israeli books specifically selected by people who know education. “And getting the books at home is just a small part. The program is about getting the families together every month to do something around the book, helping people get together and getting to know each other and the day school. That’s what brings people in. They talk to people with kids here, they learn about the school. I have no doubt some of the families who are not considering day school would do so now.”

JPDS-NC is offering a registration program on June 10th. They hosted 25 families on their first event, which included a craft project for Mother’s Day.

“I definitely think [Sifryat Pijama B’America] will work. Absolutely. I don’t see why not. If the teacher is Israeli and they speak only Hebrew, yes, it will work,” Leib concludes.

And Milstein is banking on that success, “There are 800,000 Israelis here. They’re not going back to Israel. Should we let them disappear? Or should we help galvanize them into a community, into a political power, into a charitable power? That’s what Israel needs.”

Celebrate Israel Festival

Source: Celebrate Israel Festival

Celebrate Israel Festival’s mission is to bridge between communities by celebrating the State of Israel and educating through music, arts and culture.
This spectacular 15,000-person celebration took place on April 29th at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center to celebrate Israel’s 64th independence day.
The day started with a 1.5-mile “Salute to Israel Walk” escorted by the “9/11 Tribute Cars” at 8:30am. 5 stages with performances throughout the day; “Positively Israel” pavilion showcased Israel’s innovations in technology; massive 5-foot art installations; official ceremony with local and state dignitaries took place at 1:00PM hosted by Michael Medved of KRLA kicked off by the skydiving team. Kids Amusement park, Vendors, and Café Tel Aviv.